Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion|Jenny Peterson|Central Texas Gardener


That’s an inspirational story.
Thanks so much for sharing your garden with us, it’s great to see strength
growing from difficulties there. So, again, beautiful story. We’re now going to be going
deeper into the world of healing gardens with Jenny Peterson, who is joining us now. Welcome
back to Central Texas Gardener. It’s always a pleasure to be here, Tom. And you have a
remarkable new book, it’s The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion, and this is a very personal
story for you. Tell me about the genesis of the book. I actually started thinking about
writing this book when I was writing my first book, Indoor Plant Decor, because the,
literally the week that I got diagnosed with cancer was the week that I got the contract
for that book. So while I was going through cancer treatment, I was writing that first
book. So I started thinking about, you know, how cancer hits you on every level: physically,
emotionally, spiritually, financially, and how it impacted my gardening and my sense
of myself as a person, so that’s when I started thinking, how about a book to help people
use their garden as a resource for healing and balance and happiness and health? Well,
that’s the way I relate to the garden, as a source of inspiration and as a centering
device in many ways. Your initial idea was a very general book about the healing garden.
It was, it was. I first sent in a proposal to my publisher about the general concept
of creating a healing or restorative garden, just in general, for anybody in their backyards.
And he responded with a phone call to me, and he said, “Jenny, now, with your health
history, how would you feel about really fine-tuning this topic, and focusing on cancer survivors?”
And I’m sure I did a literal grimace, I went, “Ugh, I don’t know, that just sounds
so narrow,” I was really, a little apprehensive about that, and not from a privacy standpoint.
I talk about this all the time, about my own health history and my cancer treatment and
everything. But I started to remind myself that when I got my cancer diagnosis, and when
many of my friends who are cancer survivors got theirs, we’re given books, or we go out
and buy a book, or we look something up online, and so you want to gather that information,
and books are friendly, easy ways to do that. Then I began to get a little bit easier about
it, and I’m glad that I took that leap of faith with my publisher Paul Kelley. And I
understand that, at least in the presales, the response has been phenomenal. It really
has been, I was really kinda blown away, and I always say, this is not attention for me,
I don’t think about it that way at all. This is about this topic, where wellness and mindfulness
crosses over with gardening in the natural world, and people are really resonating with
this, and I think it’s something that people recognize as important, and in the past maybe
haven’t been able to articulate it for themselves, so this book,
I think, is tapping into that, that deep well of connection for them. Yeah, and it’s applicable
to people who aren’t cancer survivors as well. It is, I have a friend that has fibromyalgia,
and she said, actually it’s my co-author from the first book, and she said that
she looks through the PDF, before I got my copy here, she was looking through
the PDF of this book, and she said, “There are so many things in this book that I do,
myself, in my garden with my chronic pain.” Right, right, well, the gifts of the garden
are many. Let’s just talk about the different ways that gardening is therapeutic for people,
whatever the situation. I always think of things, like, in terms of body, mind, and
spirit. Talking about how gardening is good for your body maybe is a more obvious conversation, there’s a little bit of light cardio there, you can do some stretching. Mm-hmm,
you need to stretch out. Yeah, exactly, before and after. I often bring my, my yoga practice
out into the garden, too, I actually have a yoga deck with a surrounding big tropical
garden. What a beautiful setting. Yeah, so, you know, incorporating things like that,
your light exercise in the garden, but keeping yourself emotionally balanced, that’s huge
for the garden, the garden teaches you so much in terms of, being in the moment. Some
profound lessons there. Yes, exactly, and then spiritually too, I think,
and when I say ‘spiritually,’ I don’t mean ‘religiously,’ although, if a person
is religious, of course, that’s gonna be their interpretation, but by ‘spiritual,’ I mean
connecting with that very deep part of yourself that talks about, or thinks about,
the whys and the essence of and the purpose of, and we find all those lessons in the garden
as well. Right, right. Well, let’s go back to the body for just a minute, there’s really
important lessons in the garden about our bodies and our existence on this planet, you
know? The cycle of life and death that we deal with in the garden is a reminder that
it’s really this rolling wheel that goes on, right? It’s constant in the garden. You think
about it, it’s constant state of birth, death, rebirth, always, not just daily. Interlocked
and intermingled, they’re not separate things in a sense. Right, and when I was writing
this book, I started thinking, that tomato plant out in the garden, when it dies, this
is not the universe being mean to it or hating it, or, “You’re dying because I wanna teach
you a lesson,” it’s not anything about that, it’s that tomato plant died because it got
to the end of its season, or it didn’t get enough water, or sunlight, but you put
that dead tomato plant in the compost pile, it’s great for next year’s. What that taught
me when I was going through my own treatment, is that this is not personal to me, I didn’t
get a cancer diagnosis because I did something wrong, or because I’m not loved, or anything
like that. It just is, it’s not a “Why me?” It’s a “Why not me?”. And you learn those things
being out in the garden. It’s a practice of being very mindful and very present in time.
Well, that word “mindfulness” is very powerful these days, and doing things intentionally,
whether it’s a little chore that you have to do in the garden, that can turn into a
blessing. Oh, absolutely. I like to think of it as, whatever emotion you’re having,
whatever difficulty you’re experiencing, or joy, or a blessing, there is something that
can mirror that or reflect that in the garden. So, for example, if you’re feeling very contemplative,
maybe have some some things you’re, that are really kinda heavy on your mind, go out in
the garden and do something that’s very slow or zen-like that you can do it without thinking
like watering or weeding. What if you’re angry or upset or so frustrated? You go out in the
garden, get that hoe, and whack those weeds, don’t whack your rosemary plant, but have
at it with the weeds and get out that, that frustration. Or if you’re feeling thankful,
go out and harvest. You could also ritualize certain aspects of this as well. I know that
there, I do that in my own garden, and in my life, there are little simple things that
I do that I think of in a ritual fashion. And I understand that some of the cancer
survivors, for example, actually have a hair-cutting ritual that they do. Yes, I did mine inside
in my sister-in-law’s hair salon. They stayed open after hours. But my dear friend, Rebecca
Sweet, she’s also a garden designer and a writer living in the Bay Area in California.
She took her head-shaving, I wouldn’t say “party,” it’s not really a party, but the
observation and that ritual, she took it out to her beautiful garden with her family, and
they sectioned off her hair, which is very thick, beautiful hair, this was about a year
ago, and they each took a turn cutting off one of those ponytails, and I’m pretty sure
she donated her hair because it was long, and she could do that, but just that ritual,
of taking some control, removing that hair that you know is gonna fall out from chemotherapy,
but doing it in the setting of your beautiful garden. She said that she felt so embraced,
and so loved and cared for, doing it in that setting. That was very important to her. Well
that, again, has that healing quality to it, when you do these kinds of rituals. Real briefly,
there are other things people could do. For example, creating a garden altar.
Yes, and I realize that the word “altar”can sound a little churchy,
but if that doesn’t resonate, that word, just exchange it for another word that
works for you, but really it’s about creating a little space in your garden where you can
put small items that you find in your garden or in your yard, or a candle. A focus point.
A focus point, and for me, it’s a way of as you pass by it, you pause and say thanks, or remember something, yeah, just an acknowledgement, it doesn’t have to be anything big and fussy.
Sometimes the smaller the better. Well, it’s a beautiful idea. I’m so glad that you’ve
undertaken this particular project. Book, again, is The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion, it just came out, so it should be available for everybody out there. Thank you so much for being on our program. Thank you, Tom. Thanks for having me. Oh no, it’s our pleasure, and coming up
next, it’s our friend Daphne.

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