EARLIER THIS MONTH, CARMEL’S TANJA ROOS FOUND HERSELF IN A POSITION SUDDENLY FAMILIAR TO MANY: Alone at home, but far from alone in her anxiety over coronavirus uncertainties.
So she went on the offensive. Her target: a rosemary bush gone rogue.
The offending herb occupies a forgotten patch of dirt next to her cottage’s driveway that she had noticed receives good sun. For a member of the UC Master Gardeners of Monterey Bay, details like that plant a seed.
“It was so cathartic and amazing to attack it,” she says. “It was such a perfect channel for my stress.”
In the newly liberated space, Roos amended the battered soil with compost and biochar, then plopped in organic starts of kale, chard, spinach and two breeds of lettuce. Next to them she planted two strains of rose, a Rosie the Riveter and a Life’s Little Pleasure miniature.
In the teeny space, she is consciously cultivating something big.
“At a time of all this fear over a real lack of control we’re all experiencing, I am able to direct that energy into something productive and hopeful,” she says. “For me gardening is always about hope and belief that beautiful things can come with tending and awareness.”
Roos is onto something. Psychology Today’s Seth J. Gillihan, Ph.D., lists 10 mental health benefits of gardening in his “Think, Act, Be” column, including practicing acceptance, developing a growth mindset, and being present. The latter invites its own list of positives, including heightened levels of focus, memory, cognitive flexibility, self-insight and – right on time – fear modulation.
A VARIETY OF FACTORS INCLUDING RECENT TRAVELS AND A RUNNY NOSE made me an early self-isolation adopter. My quarantine’s first day came the same week I moved back to Seaside after two years away.
The number-one thing making my human solitude smooth: the company of an orange tree, pygmy citrus trees, avocado tree, plum tree, pink lady apple tree, Peruvian lilies, bougainvillea, paperwhite daffodils, cape honeysuckle, and their respective friends, including Anna’s hummingbirds, painted lady butterflies and a mating pair of scrub jays.
My next springtime task is to decide what greens and vegetables to put in the half wine barrels I use as planter boxes.
For our climate and season, the gardening experts at Urban Farmer recommend beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, herbs, lettuce, melons, onions, peas, peppers, spinach, summer squash and tomatoes, with more varietal specifics for each vegetable. (Another timely resource: Oregon State University’s Master Gardener Program is offering course four of its Master Gardener Short Course Series, “Vegetable Gardening,” free until the end of April.)
For my barrels, lifelong gardener and organic farming advocate Helaine Tregenza of Del Rey Oaks recommends lettuce, parsley, cherry tomatoes and carrots. She also reminds me the amount of space you have is overrated – modest plots can be quite productive – while the amount of sun and soil quality are underrated. “Feed your soil,” she says. “Get the best organic planting mix you can.”
Some area nurseries remain open (and open-air) as of press time. Some are offering call-in curbside service or delivery. “It’s rewarding to know we’re helping our clients stay connected to the Earth and nature,” says Bokay Nursery owner-operator Jeff Nilsen, “and helping them provide for themselves.”
Nilsen doesn’t mention the other added benefit: When world economies collapse and we shift back to a barter system, home gardeners will have flowers and produce to trade for Purell.