Mindfulness in the Garden: How Gardening Can Be a Meditative Practice

How I discovered meditative gardening

One of the most common questions I am asked is: “How do you know so much about plants?” People then ask if I have any favorite books or resources that I can suggest. 

The knowledge I have gained is the result of genuine enjoyment of gardening and plant care. I didn’t decide to one day become an expert gardener and follow a pre-existing path of learning; I found myself inspired by my plants and interested in learning how to help them grow.

As I learned and my garden grew, I realized that gardening had become a meditative practice in my routine. The time spent carefully digging, watering, planting, and landscaping calmed my mind, energized my body, and inspired my spirit. These tasks may sound like “work” to other people, but for me, they were exactly what my well-being needed. 

I relearned the importance of kindness, patience, and positivity, and became a better teacher, friend, and son. I’d take the stress and frustrations of my day-to-day life into my garden, and walk into my house a couple hours later, less burdened and at peace. 

The view of my garden from my back door

Approach gardening like a meditation

I don’t believe there is any one or right way to meditate, as meditation is deeply personal. Instead, I focus on the result of meditation to measure its effectiveness. A good meditation is clarifying, energizing, calming, and/or invigorating. It can help us to find solutions to problems, peace in chaos, and relaxation to tension. 

If you’re interested in adopting gardening/plant-care as a meditative practice, or turning your current gardening into an activity for mindfulness, here are my top tips. 

1. Allow yourself to be present

Meditation is about engaging in the moment that is happening. How many of us spend our time worrying about something that happened in the past or concerned with the potential occurrences of the future? For gardening to be meditative, I encourage you to leave the thoughts of time past and future behind when you step into your greenspace. 

2. Engage your senses

You might be wondering: How am I supposed to be present with so many things happening in my life? I understand that it’s difficult to be present – especially when we are stressed. One of my favorite things about gardening is the sensory stimulation. The majority of us spend most of our time inside, looking at a screen, and touching a keyboard. The air isn’t fresh, the screen is harsh on the eyes, and the keyboard is uninspiring plastic on the fingers. 

In the garden, we have fresh air, a variety of smells, different colors to see, the sounds of birds, and the texture of leaves, petals, and dirt. Turn gardening into a meditative by literally stopping to smell the roses. I find that many people neglect the healing and meditative side of gardening by focusing exclusively on the aesthetic side of things. A pretty space is nice to look at, but plants have much more to offer us. Incorporate things that smell lovely, are interesting to the touch, and help you appreciate the present moment. And, sensory stimulation is known to cognitive benefits, from helping children develop to supporting people with dementia. This leads me to think everyone can benefit from engaging their senses outside. 

3. Consider your mood

When you wander around your greenspace, replant a monstera, or fill a bed with mulch, take notice of yourself. Are you agitated? Is your breathing rushed? Are you holding unnecessary tension in your body? Are you relaxed and peaceful? How is your mood affecting how you manage the life in your care?

A common problem is people not realizing how stressed they are because the stress has become normalized in our everyday living. Be honest with yourself when you are among your plants, feet on the ground and hands in the soil. If you’re feeling positive and at ease, appreciate the serenity and share it with the beings your cross in your garden. 

4. Appreciate the life around you

I always say: We are never alone when we are outside. Between the insects, animals, and plants, we are just one being in a greater community. I’ve come to understand our spirit as our connection to life and other beings. Tend to your spirit when you are in your garden and consider all the other beings that are working to make the ecosystem thrive. Practicing gratitude daily is known to reduce anxiety and even support sleep, so take time to extend gratitude to the worms hard at work in the soil!

When work took over my life and I didn’t have much time for developing relationships, my garden became a place where I could find connection and a sense of belonging. Restore your spirit by respecting the life around you – a garden meditation is the perfect time to do it. 

Appreciating fallen flowers in the garden

Your garden meditation

Are you ready to turn gardening into a meditative practice? I hope you find new ways to nourish your mind, body, and spirit while enjoying time outside. 

Watering Wisdom: Tips for Efficient Water Use in Your Garden

One thing you absolutely need in your garden

There is something all gardeners need to figure out when planning a garden. 

Water!

Without it, our plants can’t grow. Our watering systems will vary depending on factors such as how many plants we have, where we are, and how much rain we get, but one thing is certain: Water is a critical element in our garden.

Our watering needs change with the seasons, and we need to adapt alongside our garden’s needs. I’m located in Houston, and our hot summers (especially without rain) can present a challenge for garden hydration, while we don’t need to do much in the winter.

In this blog post, we will explore different ways to water our outdoor plants, as well as how to use water efficiently. These methods include rainwater harvesting, hose watering, and using watering cans. 

Ways to water your garden

Let’s break down some ways to water. 

1. Rain Barrels

Rainwater harvesting isn’t legal in every state, so make sure you do necessary research before jumping in. It’s legal in Texas, so I installed two 50 gallon rain barrels under my gutters to collect rainwater that would otherwise collect on the ground. I use this rainwater to fill watering cans that I then use to water my plants. I like this process because the rainwater has nutrients that benefit my plants, and I don’t have to rely entirely on water from my hose. This is especially helpful in the summer months when water is in high demand – although the amount of rainwater I have is contingent on the amount of rain we get, so I may have empty barrels during a drought. When the rain comes regularly, I use rainwater as much as I can instead of the hose. 

2. Hose

I use the hose sparingly, and only when it’s needed. I have an attachment with different spray options so I can direct the water in the stream that’s best for the situation at hand. Using a hose to water leads us to a gardening consideration: What are we planting?

If we plant tropical plants but don’t live in a subtropical climate, we will need to water them more to compensate for the lack of natural hydration. This is one reason why you may have heard about planting plants that are native to your area. Not only are they beneficial for the ecosystem by supporting local wildlife, but they have evolved to the specific climate they are native to. This means that under normal conditions, they are prepared to grow with the natural rainfall of your area and shouldn’t need any “intervention” with additional watering. 

3. Watering can

This is the tool we often imagine when we think of gardening. They help us bring water around our garden, and help us use the water deliberately. While the hose will water continuously (unless we stop the flow), the watering can distributes water only when we tip it. This allows us to be intentional with our water and not waste it on parts of our garden that don’t need it. 

Learn from my experience

My garden is a combination of native plants, tropical plants, herbs, trees, and more. The best seasons for gardening in Texas are spring and fall because we get a freeze or two in the winter and the summers are hot and dry. As I shared earlier, I don’t need to water much in the winter, but I’ve learned a lot about watering in the summer. 

There are a couple of things I do to keep my garden maintenance practical while still having water-loving plants in my yard. 

1. Layering plants: “Two for one”

I position plants in layers so if I water one plant higher up, the excess water will fall into another plant that’s positioned underneath it. This way I am watering “two for one.” 

2. Grouping plants

I love tropical plants and would love to have massive monsteras and philodendrons all over my yard. But, this isn’t practical in Houston so I try to put my water-loving plants close together so when I water them with the hose, the stream is maximized. Any “fallout” water goes into another thirsty plant instead where it isn’t needed.

3. Making garden choices that make sense for my area

As I shared previously, I would love to have certain plants all over my yard, but I know it doesn’t make sense for where I am. After a particularly dry summer, I realized it took much time, energy, and resources to water (and worry about watering) plants that are not equipped for Houston. This led me to have fewer of them in my garden, and instead focus on more plants that are hardier for my zone. 

Final tip: Know your zone

The United States is divided into different “zones,” and we can learn about our zone from ​”The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.” This map “is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which perennial plants are most likely to thrive at a location. Following the guidance associated with your zone will help you make practical decisions for what you plant, as well as how you water, and save you a lot of heartache trying to grow things that won’t do well.

Tropical monstera deliciosa

Native passion vine

Composting 101: Turning Waste into Garden Gold

There is no waste in nature

Have you ever wondered what your house or apartment would look like if you had to live with all your trash? How long would it take for your space to be full of waste?

Now consider this: 24% of what ends up in landfills is food waste. Uneaten food takes up more space in landfills than any other material. This is an issue for several reasons, but what we will focus on today is how that food could serve a greater purpose. 

Our food scraps and waste can nourish the earth! It can feed our plants so they can grow strong and healthy, and support our ecosystems. This is what is now known as composting. We collect our “waste” or scraps from organic material (fruits, vegetables, eggshells, moldy bread, etc), let the mixture decompose for a few months, and feed it to our gardens like an earth-smelling power smoothie.

Composting keeps food scraps out of landfills, supports our plants, and turns what would be “waste” into powerful fertilizer! Are you interested in learning to compost? Let me break down my process for you. 

How composting transformed my garden

When I moved into my house, my garden was a sad piece of land waiting for life-giving nutrients. It had been neglected and overlooked, but still housed life waiting to be nurtured. 

I started composting not long after immersing myself in plantcare, and my yard responded with enthusiasm. After churning the contents in my compost pit, I would walk around my yard and hit my churning shovels against each other to shake off any compost materials on them. This distributed compost, potent and powerful, around the land. From the barren dirt grew bright green grass and native plants. The flowers brought bees, and a thriving ecosystem followed. 

Years later, people often ask me about my secret. “How did you make the grass grow? Why is the space vibrant? What is it that you do here?”

My answer? Compost!

How to compost at home

I have spent years composting with this method, and it works tremendously well for me. I have a three-stage compost system:

1. Kitchen bin

    My kitchen bin is where I collect my food scraps and organic material like leaves from my houseplants. It generally takes 1-2 weeks to fill a bin, and then I move its contents to the outdoor bin. I don’t compost all organic materials like meat (this “What to Avoid Adding to a Backyard Compost Pile” is a great guide), but you would still be surprised at how much I separate from my trash can! Here is a list of what is common in my compost:

    1. Pepper stems

    2. Eggshells 

    3. Grapevines

    4. Banana peels

    5. Onion skin

    My indoor compost bins. I put citrus into the white bin as citrus will make your general compost too acidic. Keeping citrus is a personal choice; it is not essential for your home composting system.

    2. Outdoor tumble bin

    When my kitchen bin is full, I add its content to my outdoor tumble bin. Compost is meant to be a balance of carbon and nitrogen materials. Depending on how many stems, seeds, and rinds I have in my mix (these are referred to as “greens” (nitrogen-rich materials), I also put in some dead leaves from the yard, or a piece of cardboard (these are referred to as “browns,” or carbon-rich materials) to balance. The bin is split into compartments, each able to hold 21 gallons of compost. I fill one side at a time. Once that side is full, I fill the other. When the second side is full, usually after several months, I transfer the contents of the first side to my final stage. I let the first side sit for the few months to let everything further decompose. 

    3. Outdoor pit

    This is my final compost stage, where my compost ends up after months of breaking down. This bin is hot in the center and is filled with worms and rich material. During watermelon season, I can put a single watermelon rind (I cut watermelons in half, scoop out the contents, and compost the two sides) in the center and it will be gone within two weeks. The final stage is what I draw from to nourish my garden.

    Once your compost is ready from stage three, it can be added to raised beds, sprinkled on trees, and mixed into planters. Be careful though – there is too much of a good thing! In case you’re inclined to plant something entirely in compost (won’t it be like extra healthy soil?), know that a plant can suffer when presented with more nutrients than it needs or an unbalanced substrate. 

    How to compost without a composting system

    If you want to keep your food waste out of landfills and support nature but don’t have the space to compost yourself, see if there’s a composting company or organization in your area. Some companies will pick up buckets of food scraps like a trash collector. Local universities or schools may have gardens and welcome donations of compost. I recently got in touch with a university about a compost surplus I have, and I look forward to sharing my compost with them. 

    Here are a couple examples of compost collection organizations:

    Boston area: https://bootstrapcompost.com/

    The Woodlands TX area: https://www.zerowastehoustontx.com/

    Are you ready to compost?

    In summary, here are key benefits of composting:

    1. Our food scraps feed our plants

    2. We eliminate waste

    3. We keep food out of landfills

    4. We save money on fertilizer 

    Are you ready to turn food into fertilizer? I hope the answer is yes! To get started on your composting, here are the tools I use in my home composting system (disclaimer – I receive compensation for purchases made through my Amazon Storefront, but these are the tools I use everyday):

    Stage 1: Kitchen bin

    Stage 2: Outdoor bin

    Stage 3: Outdoor pit

    Optional step, but beneficial (this can be planted into your raised beds): Worm composter