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Garden Designers Roundtable Post – Plant a Garden, The Life You Save MIGHT Be Your Own

by germinatrix | October 26th, 2010

one of my very first plant "crushes" Canna 'Bengal Tiger' - can you blame me?

I strongly believe that gardening can save the world.  One by one, we can all make changes in our gardens and in the gardens of our clients and friends and start a chain that can and will reverberate beyond our immediate spheres of influence. We don’t know where the impact of our small gestures might lead – so we have to commit ourselves to making those gestures with strength and conviction. Sounds grand, doesn’t it? But it is actually very simple, and what sounds like a scheme for world domination is actually a very personal thing – it starts every time someone discovers the magical, healing powers of gardening. For me, it was completely accidental – somehow, I instinctively turned to something that I knew nothing about (I’d never given the smallest thought to plants and gardening) out of a sense of self-preservation that, to this day, I can’t really explain.

Pelargonium 'Chocolate Mint' - fuzzy, aromatic leaves add to the sensual pleasure of gardening

Before I became a garden designer, I was an actor. I was ALWAYS an actor – since I was a teenager. I was the girl in highschool who won the acting awards, for college went to the special theatre school, I always got great parts – it all came fairly easily to me. But something was never totally “right”. Something about me loved what I did, but something just as strong rebelled against it – I was always a troublemaker, a theatre school version of Lindsay Lohan. But when I left school it was with an agent and into the life of an actor, working in film and tv. And I hated it. Every minute of it. Some people take to the strange world of Hollywood like ducks to water, but I took to it like a monkey in a cage. The money was great, and every job I got was a validation, but the actual work was strange and disjointed, and the thing I loved about theatre – the rehearsals, the discovery, the study of human dynamics – all that was gone. I began to get very depressed.

the first plant I ever bought - an 'Eden' rose to add to the now defunct rose garden

Soon, my husband and I bought a house, on a corner, with alot of lawn and a small rose garden. I continued to do my thing- auditioning, working, but it was robotic; I felt I had less and less to give. Then one day I was up for a HUGE part in a BIG series at the time. They loved me – I just had to audition one more time for the network. I did it – and they thought I was great, but there was just ONE little thing – could I come in one more time? The next day I walked into a room full of network execs and producers and the director and the casting agent, all smiling big supportive smiles – and I realized I had NOTHING. Nothing. I sat down and read like the sad robot I had become, disconnected and empty. The biggest moment of my career, and there was nothing I could do – I had no more to give. As I walked out, the wonderful casting director gave me a hug and said “Ivette, I am SO very sorry…”. I went home, called my agent, and quit acting.

I still love a great rose - as long as they can roll with a tough crew

I felt completely used up. Whatever it was that I had been giving to my work, nothing was ever being replenished. I was hollow; dull. I found no no joy in anything, nothing interested me. One day, I looked outside at the run down rose garden. I went outside and picked some flowers – they were weak, spindly plants; they didn’t look right – so I bought a book on roses. I put all of my energy into those roses. I read more, and realized that one of the reasons they were doing so poorly is that they were isolated; they needed friends. I added lavenders, nepetas, grasses – I dug and amended, I pruned and planted, I got so dirty and reveled in the sensual pleasure of the sights, smells, and textures of this new world I’d discovered. I couldn’t get enough! As my roses got new friends, so did I – all of us obsessed and thrilled to share our  passion with each other. I began to play outside, like a child – out went the front lawn – in went phormiums, kangaroo paws, and almost 150 Papaver somniferum ‘Thundercloud’ (I was OBVIOUSLY working something out – who plants a field of OPIUM in their front yard?) With every new plant I put in, with every new area of the garden I played with, I became bright again – this garden work was nourishing my core, my soul. I wasn’t being depleted, I was being fed. The neurosis was gone, the fear, the uncertainty – vanished. Being in the garden is all creation and expectation; even when things don’t work there are reasons, solutions – so unlike the world I just left. Turning to the garden when things went wrong was the best instinct I ever had, and I think it isn’t being overly dramatic to say it might have very well saved my life. It DEFINITELY saved my sanity.

neomarica cearulia and stipa, an early combo I still adore

The therapeutic value of a garden can’t be overstated. Digging, smelling, touching, looking, and learning about the workings of the natural world is you connecting to something greater than yourself. When you garden, you interact with the elements in a primal way. In a very real sense, gardening is magic.

Pass on the magic, friends – what we do is special. Potentially life-altering. I know you can feel it, too.

XOXO Your Germinatrix

Now go read the posts of my friends and colleagues, along with extra special guest Naomi Sachs – uber Healing Garden Maker Extraordinaire!!!

Naomi Sachs : Therapeutic Landscapes Network : Beacon, NY

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Jenny Petersen : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin TX

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Rochelle Greayer : Studio “G” : Boston, MA

17 Responses to “Garden Designers Roundtable Post – Plant a Garden, The Life You Save MIGHT Be Your Own”

  1. Ivette, you’ve of course captured the essence of why we garden–it’s a life-giving, connecting, relating pursuit. I remember on 9-11 when everything seemed so ominous and dark and depressing, I went out into my then-sorry-ass garden and what did I see? A volunteer flower springing up, very cheerfully, where it had no real reason to. It was humbling and comforting to see the strength and resilience of the world around me in that moment. So glad you found your passion and spirit through the garden! Hugs to you.

  2. Germi, your story is poignant and courageous. Thank you for sharing it. I can’t imagine not having a garden, for many of the same reasons.

  3. What an amazing story! I had no idea about your “past life,” or how you became a gardener and designer. I came to my area of the field in a sort of similar way: After graduating from college, I was adrift and renting a house in Providence, RI that had a small back yard. I worked a lot in the garden, and noticed that whenever I did, my troubles would dissipate. Then I happened upon an issue of Landscape Architecture magazine with an article on “healing gardens.” One of the best “ah-ha” moments of my life!

  4. Jenny! So true – I have always had a hard time finding something to believe in, until I became a gardener. Everything fell into place and something spiritual “clicked” in me. I know we all have these stories. We are so LUCKY to be able to work in arena that fills us up, rather than empties us out! XOXO

    Dear Debra! Living without a garden would be impossible for me now – it is where I find my peace, and a great deal of the pleasure in my life comes directly from my garden and my garden world. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post – you know what you mean to me!!! XOXO!!!

  5. Ivette, Thank you for sharing such a personal and poignant story. How lucky you were to find your passion and true joy right outside the front door. I wholeheartedly agree that tending a garden is a powerful act that can be lost on many gardeners. When you open your eyes and look beyond the plants and really ‘see’ all the ways a garden can change the world – even if it’s only your 1/4 acre world – you’ll never look at your garden the same way again. BTW, I love the picture of ‘Bengal Tiger’, if that can’t inspire passion I don’t know what can.

  6. Seeing your Eden and Altissimo makes me smile – I’m not a huge rose fan, but I DO have those two in my own garden! Thank you for such a beautiful, tender post. Your style of writing is so powerful, too – literally causing me to want to run out in the dark and plant the 6 little carex divulsas that have been patiently waiting for me. I’m so glad I’m not just watching you on TV, but instead getting to read your wonderful writing and being your friend. Hugs…..R

  7. “I’m so glad I’m not just watching you on TV, but instead getting to read your wonderful writing and being your friend.”

    I love Rebecca’s comment, and it’s true for me too! Acting is cool, but gardens are REAL, and the fact that they’re also magical is what makes them irresistible, right? You truly found your calling.

  8. Great post Germi! So personal and true. While I of course never knew this acting side of you it does make perfect sense. After all I think you are the only blogger I know who uses more exclamation points than I do! So glad you found your calling and are so successful at it! Plus that means infecting others too, it’s all good!

  9. Thanks for sharing a very personal and heart warming story.
    Wot a great outcome.
    Also you make a larger, in world terms, point along the lines of the butterfly and the hurricane – we could improve the world if everyone found this kind of restorative salvation!
    Thanks for showing Neomarica -use to grow northiana, but inside over here of course. Not seen it for years!
    Best Wishes

  10. Ivette, what a lovely, touching story. You always manage to bring me right into the scene with you – a skill that an actor needs, yes, but a garden designer and writer – even more so, since an actor has props! You’ve obviously found your calling and your post made me cry all the way through it. Rock on, my friend.

  11. My garden saved my life too Germi, but in a very different way. I never thought about it the way you’ve expressed here. Thanks for giving me some perspective.

  12. It seems I’ve always looked to the garden, and nature, for it’s quiet support. In grammar school, I used to take my books out to the pond nearby so I could study better. I was an OK student, but tended to get overwhelmed with words. When this happened, I’d look up and notice plant colors and textures, take a deep breathe and read some more. I hadn’t thought about that in decades! (It feels funny to be in the company of so many professionals, I think I was one of only 2 at the tweet-up at Margaret Roche’s.)

  13. Germi, I’m on the horns of a similar dilemma. Your post is very inspiring.

  14. Thank you all for being such lovely readers! ALL of you make me so happy I feel like I am glowing brighter than the pumpkin I carved last night!

    Naomi – It is such a thrill that you joined us this round, and your insight into the topic is so valuable. Mine is one story of a garden changing a life, but to devote yourself to making these things happen where it is urgently needed – wow. Mad respect. Isn’t it funny that at crucial times in our lives, we found ourselves digging and growing? A valuable instinct. Hurray for your AHA!

    Debbie! I totally want a dress in the color and stripe pattern of ‘Bengal Tiger’! A wrap dress, to the knee – wouldn’t that be great? And considering that I wear nothing but black, gray, navy, and brown, it would be a HUGE new look for me! I love what you said about looking “beyond the plants” – the issues we deal with are so wrapped up in aesthetics, but are also MUCH bigger. We are in total agreement.

    Sweet One – see what I always say about us being Brain Twins? Even with our choice of ROES! It is undeniable. Thanks for say ing such nice things about the way I write – because the feeling is so mutual! You know it! XOXO!!!

    Awww, Pam … Y’all are making me WEEPY!!! The pleasure I get from gardening and my garden world SO outstrips what acting gave me. I feel so lucky to have all of you awesome colleagues and friends in my life – SO much better than a bunch of dicky actors! NO CONTEST! We make real magic! Right!!! XOXO!

    Loree!!!!!! (HA!) Yes – I think the exclamation mark makes my writing sound like my voice – which is really loud, and I am given to uncontrollable giggles and eruptions of laughter. Are you like that too? A period just doesn’t convey what I want to end with! We are infecting each other, garden friend (oh that sounds all sorts of wrong!) XO!

    Robert, it is my pleasure to share the most miserable moment of my adult life – it paved the way for my current happiness! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Oh I LOOOOOVE neomarica! I have two, and they BARELY grow, but I cling to them. They are so glorious in bloom, and then easily fade into the background. Gorgeous AND graceful – a near perfect plant!

    Gen, now I’m getting misty again! I will keep rocking if you rock with me!

    Susan, no WAY I can give you perspective! Wow – that blows me away because you are the most discerning designer I know. But things are always different when we look at ourselves and our past. Thank YOU for your thoughtfulness and insight, always.

    I love what you’ve expressed here, Kari – so true. The garden gets us in different ways, but if we are paying attention, it DOES get us. And get ready to be in the company of more and more garden pros – it’s in the cards!

  15. Ivette,
    That’s a great story…I had no idea about your background in acting! I love how you found redemption and fulfillment in the garden. Now, you share from your abundance with others.

  16. Ivette, thanks for sharing your poignant story of “success,” despair, and renewal. The eternal cycle of nature’s renewal that gardeners become a part of/benefit from is very powerful indeed.

  17. Nature Assassin says:

    This post reaffirms my belief that gardening is truly a form of therapy! It’s not for everyone… but if you’ve got that nurturing, nature-loving temperament, it’s deeply powerful.

    You know, you’d be surprised at the lack of real, empirical psychological research on horticultural therapy. Somebody needs to get that ball rolling.

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