“My flowers are budding!” I yelled to my partner as he gathered the water jugs on a hot early July afternoon. Until recently, we had been losing the battle against weeds. Our plants had fought against the invading army which sought to take their sunlight, water, and nutrients. Our efforts were finally succeeding and I was overjoyed. Each day I returned to the garden, another flower stood proudly above the thinning enemy. The garden was not a complete failure despite our rocky start. Yes, the majority of the cucumbers in my plot did not grow and were replaced with new starter plants, but within a week of each other two cucumber plants pushed to the surface, almost a month after we had put the seeds in soil. Three large squash plants grew in a plot where we had buried an entire packet of seeds and started to produce numerous, orange crookneck squash. I estimated our tomato plants would yield hundreds of various size and color. Some of our plants failed, but we were not failures. Inexperienced, but that could be remedied.
A week after our previously dormant cucumbers made their way above ground, I had a conversation about the resiliency of survivors. One of the participants and I discussed the metaphor of beautiful, delicate flowers. The third woman in our group jumped in after I referenced the unicorn plants growing in the Healing Garden. “Well, and I can’t believe the seed pods on the unicorn plants. The flowers are so dainty, but then the seed pod looks like a giant claw!”
After our discussion, we went to work in the garden to replace a flower that had fallen victim to transplant shock the week before. Despite some casualties, our three plots were thriving. The unicorn plants took over their box, and one of our yucca plants stood tall and green after weeks where we had questioned its survival. I reflected on our time spent in the Healing Garden this summer, still high off our conversation about plans to make it an even bigger and better project next summer and beyond. At that moment, the idea of the resiliency of plants and survivors struck me. Most of the summer already came and went. Both of my gardens would be taken over by frost and snow soon enough. The change I felt from summer to another school year was remarkable. I grew as a researcher, as a gardener, and as a survivor.
An integral part of my growth was the realization that I had tried to keep the Healing Garden separate from my own garden–really, from myself. The months spent planning, proposing, and implementing the Healing Garden for my thesis were months of seeing myself as separate from the participants. My focus was on helping and researching others, even while I talked about co-researchers, co-creation of knowledge, and co-participation. When I described the participants I was looking for I didn’t realize then that I was describing someone much like myself. I saw myself further in my healing than the proposed participants. As I spent time working in my personal garden full of frustration and joy and in my healing garden full of promise and anxiety and as I read literature like that written by Carolyn Ellis that allowed the acknowledgement and insertion of a researcher’s experiences and insights, I could admit the Healing Garden was created as much for myself as my personal garden. While the experiences and interactions in both have been different, the growth that has occurred in me was because of both. The pride I feel for both plants and participants I could extend to myself.
I am like them. I have survived. I am resilient. I am growing.