Awaken your sense of child-like wonder

Hellebores, I can't remember which.

The weather is finally turning a bit, and I’ve been planting like a busy bee. Today, as I dug holes for an apricot tree and four shrubs (a forsythia, two red-twig dogwoods and a golden arborvitae), I thought about why I garden. I was covered with leaf mold, cotton burr compost and dirt, and yet, I felt like a child again. All around me violas, pansies, crocus and daffodils were blooming. Bees were just starting to buzz, and every day, something different was poking its leaves above ground.

Crocus, one of the tommies, but I didn't tag the spot, so I don't know which one.

In our ever busy, super techno world, it seems people are more cynical, and many try to regain their childhood in unhealthy ways. I can promise you playing Xbox is not the path to happiness.

I had a bone density test this morning, and as is often the case this time of year, I stood, in jeans, boots and gardening t-shirt, waiting. All around me in the waiting room were important looking women in their suits and heels with polished profiles. One looked askance at me, and I said, “I’m a gardener” and smiled. I smiled because every time I say those words, I feel the fluttering wings of joy in my heart. I was once the woman in the suit, and I am no more.

Chionodoxa forbesii 'Pink Giant'

Next, the other person will generally say they can’t garden, or ask a question about a plant with a kind of embarrassed look about the eyes, but every once in awhile, they will lean forward and whisper almost reverently, “I’m a gardener too.”

Ipheion uniflorum with Imperial Antique Shades pansy

Now, close your eyes for just a moment, sit back in your chair and be still. I know it’s hard, but essential things often are.

Just rest. Rest is essential.

After you reopen your eyes, think back to when you were a child. It’s Saturday, and all of your chores are done. The rest of the day is yours until supper. What will you do? My sister and I often went out back, made mud pies, and played with rolly pollies (sowbugs) and earthworms. We dug holes, and filled them with water. Sometimes, we even planted seeds. I’ll never forget (and I’m sure my mom won’t either) the time when I found a dead bird, and I put it in the planter where some rose moss grew. I knew it would break down in the soil, but I didn’t realize how bad it would smell in the meantime.Whoops.

I often transplanted weeds here and there pretending they were roses and other beautiful plants. We would crawl behind shrubs and make these small spaces our “houses.” What I was doing I now realize was learning my craft, bit by bit, or bird by bird as Anne Lamott would say.

N. x odorus, Campernelle, one of the most delicate of the daffs.

Now, bring yourself back to present. So many of our childhood memories involve the outdoors, and I hope you found some beautiful ones fluttering within your soul. Forts, flowers and fun were the watchwords of our childhood days.

So much of the time when I meet people who say they can’t garden, I am perplexed when they then wrinkle up their noses in distaste. I believe it’s because we’ve forgotten how to play. And, at its heart, gardening is simply play. I still get to dig in the dirt, stretch my muscles, fill holes with water, and get so supremely dirty, that a shower is a relief.

Michele's book is really good.

Michele Owens, one of my favorite writers, has her first gardening book out, Grow the Good Life, which explains some of why we have problems with gardening. After reading it, I think many of her assertions are dead on. Success lies in how we judge gardening. If we see it as a problem, or as warfare, we don’t want to do it. Our perspective is all wrong.

Instead of worrying about which bug to kill, we need to remember how much we loved to play outside. You know . . . re-awaken our sense of child-like wonder.

I’m willing to grow the good life. How about you? What will you do to change your outlook on gardening and the great outdoors?



  1. Randy says:

    Thanks for your help and comment on my blog. The hellebore at the top is stunning! If you ever want to trade seedlings? I have a page at the top right of my blog called our garden plants, it shows all the hellebores that bloomed this year and mentions if they had seedlings.

    The crocus might be Ruby Giant or the common Flower Record.

  2. I love your post’s title…

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thanks Jennifer. You’re too kind.

  3. gardenercaleb says:

    Such a pretty hellebore…

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much! I bet things are getting pretty up your way too.

  4. Andrea says:

    Hi Dee, i can relate with you fully well. However, people from different countries, different climates, different economic status, etc, etc. might have very diffirent thoughts about gardeners. Definitely, your case there is very different from our cases here. Do you know that in the ’80s, students who go to take agriculture courses were thought to be plowing fields and have their legs fully submerged in rice paddies planting? That is not to say that gardeners are plain laborers! But that changed now, agriculturists have PhDs, occupy distinguished jobs, some have beautiful houses, landscape designers, and are in suits! haha. Time changed and everything change, but we plant lovers are the same, we love plants and gardens, whatever our status are!

  5. Rose says:

    Lovely and so thought-provoking, Dee! My childhood memories of gardening were helping plant seed potatoes on a chilly April day and picking green beans on a hot, humid July day. Maybe that’s why gardening always seemed like work to me, and it took me a long time to appreciate it. Now the garden is where I am happiest!

  6. Sweetbay says:

    It’s my assertion that non-gardeners do not understand gardeners AT ALL. I am not stating this with any heat or dogma, just as my opinion. I think it’s sad; they’re missing out on a lot.

    I get more dirty gardening than anything else, including farm chores like replacing fence posts!

  7. ilona says:

    I used to play making mud pies,too. And agree on the importance of rest- a restfulness of spirit is essential.

  8. Dear Dee, Thank you for urging me back into my childhood … I have lovely memories of walking through English meadows, picking daisies, and making daisy-chain necklaces. (It was safe to wander away from home, back then. Now, I have to keep my grandchildren in my sight.) I am going to try to pause more in my garden, to be still, and ‘take it in’. Lovely post. P x

  9. I wonder if your crocuses are ‘Ruby Giant’? I don’t even have to concentrate to remember back to my childhood and wander through the remains of an abandoned wildflower garden, picking lily-of-the-valley bouquets, peeking inside Arisaemas to see the “jack,” and making up fairy stories with the flowers.

  10. Nutty Gnome says:

    I’m only 8 on the inside and still adore playing in the dirt! 🙂
    We had a ‘den’ behind my dad’s garage, played complicated made-up games with ever changing rules, made ‘perfume’ from water and rose petals, we climbed trees, hunted for worms and rescued frogs – whether they wanted to be rescued or not! It was such a happy time and I recreated that with my own kids ….and I loved it when they all paddling in the pond as I filled it up for the very first time! Bliss 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Nutty Gnome, I’m probably about ten. I liked being ten I remember. I never made perfume, but now I wish I had. What fun. We held toads and made them houses too. See how much our children are missing? Thanks so much for coming by, and yes, I did play with my children the same. They are all older now, so don’t get to play as much, but maybe with my future grands?

  11. Les says:

    I remember one spring, before my parents had the entire vegetable garden ready for planting, we took it over to make roads for our to trucks and cars. I started to create buildings out of small pieces of scrap lumber, and once they were up the landscaping began. I took cuttings from my mom’s garden to stick in the soil making miniature trees and shrubs for the emerging village. Our little town was sacrificed as soon as it was warm enough to plant the tomatoes.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Les, I love your memory. It’s a beautiful one filled full with building and landscaping. You were creating your future life too. We never had a big garden at my home, but we did have fields in which to play.

  12. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I just love this post Dee. I think one of the reasons why I garden is because I do feel child-like when out digging in the garden, moving shrubs,planting pretty flowers. Even moving the furniture about the garden makes me remember when I took my little childs chair and made a fort in the neighbors corn patch. I am going to go out and play, I mean work, in the garden today. It is to be a nice day. Time to get things cleaned up. I hope you have a great weekend.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, thank you so much. I love that you remember so much of your childhood. I love it.

  13. An enchanting post Dee! Your childhood memories remind me of some of mind. Playing in the dirt and making “houses” must be universal. I too loved the outdoors and exploring the wild land of my grandparents. What is Xbox? Your garden looks so lovely with your spring bulbs blooming. I am looking out on a white landscape with snow flurries, but the birds are singing!! Thanks for the reminder about rest and not judging the garden or thinking of killing whatever. Having recently adapted to deer ticks taking up residence in my gardens has been a real test for me in that way. Lyme disease and antibiotics are no fun. I hope our real winter will make a difference in the populations. I so look forward to the garden, land and forest waking up! I so feel empathy for you in the doctors office. I hope your bone density was great! Gardeners should have strong bones. Thanks so for the link to Michele’s book . . . I have been meaning to get it.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Carol, I’m terribly sorry about the deer ticks. I hope this reduces their number greatly. We can hope right? Loved reading your memories. I hope my bone density is great too. 🙂

  14. Leslie says:

    We used to make Hobo Stew with all the overgrown cucumbers and radishes. Not that we ever ate it…it also had mud and grass in it. But it was fun! I love Micheles’ book too, by the way 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Leslie, I bet you bring much of your childhood to your present work too. You are so gifted at what you do with the kids. I always loved the real hobo stew. I bet the pretend type was great too.

  15. Carol says:

    I loved to walk up and down the rows of my Dad’s vegetable garden when I was a kid after the “inside Saturday morning chores” were done. I never tire of walking around my own garden now, digging in the garden, scratching the earth, sifting the compost. It’s all good, no matter how dirty I get in the process. Winter here in central Indiana is just now loosening her grip so I hope to soon be out in my garden for more than a few minutes of just wandering around! (I really loved Michele’s book, too!)

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Carol, I feel the same way about my garden. I never tired of being in it, surveying it and eating from it. It is my joy.

  16. Donna says:

    I am a digger of the dirt from way back from the time I was able to walk until now…I can’t imagine not playing in the dirt and even the weed pulling relaxes me…sometimes laying on the grass and making cloud pictures is my way of being child-like again but then someone always catches me and thinks I’ve fallen and I can’t get up….Dee thx for this beautiful reminder to play and have fun!!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Donna, I had to laugh at people trying to always help you back up. They don’t know we’re just being our inner kids do they?

  17. Just beautiful!

    That’s me too, in the jeans and boots , gardening and tending animals.

    People have forgotten how to play, I agree,
    I am passionate about connecting people to our earth.

    happy day!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Marcia, thanks so much for commenting. Yes, we’ve all forgotten how to play, especially our children.

  18. The natural world was always always our playground. I feel sad for today’s over-programmed, over-protected kids. They’re missing the freedom to explore. Nature deficit, I think it’s called.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Helen, you are absolutely right, and it’s been eloquently written upon by several great authors. My children live out in the country, so they aren’t as protected, but still . . . they do spend much too much time inside.

  19. gail says:

    Dee, I have been waiting to get back in the garden and play….We finally have sunshine and it’s calling me! Right now the garden is muddy enough to make the best mud pies! gail

  20. I so “play in the garden” just like I played outside as a child. Our farm had many great places to explore, experiment and learn. I was right there with you on the mud pies (I always dressed mine with leaves). I still love leaves. Can you tell?

  21. Kristin says:

    It’s fun to remember back when we were children. My sister and I would make soup from grass and petals and pretend we were the best cooks. My sister, much to the dismay of my mother, planted all my moms birth control pills in the garden.

  22. Sometimes gardening turns into a long list of have-tos for me. I try to follow the adage, “If it’s not fun, don’t do it.” It is supposed to be my play time, but grownups can somehow turn even their play into work if they’re not careful.

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