As a kid I never had a garden of my own, but I picked flowers whenever I could. Landscaping for the sandbox, hollyhock dolls for play-acting, arrangements for Mom and Dads bridge club, gifts for my teachers at school ... (I even got called into the principals office once when I picked a neighbors pansies for the first-grade teacher I adored).
Finally I built my own garden. I could sculpt the land around this house just as I had those sandbox scenes. I could put crimson flowers here, sky blue there: just where they struck my fancy.
But as I created what I envisioned, I also began to enjoy learning what each plant needed, finding where it would best thrive. I gave something of myself to the place, and took something in. When the garden looked good, when the plants were bursting with life, I felt great. I realized this was more than an intimate relationship; my garden had become part of me, part of my sense of who I am.
In back of our yard, we own a bit of woods, on the edge of Howard Park. As I turned my attention to what plants to put in a woods garden, I became more aware of what was there already: what was planted, what was native, and what must have grown up after it had once been cleared.
Then I followed the trail into the park, and saw a greater diversity of plants: it looked like that woods had never been cleared. The contrast drew my attention deeper; I found myself feeling about the woodland the way I did about my garden. I'd never been a passionate environmentalist just your everyday armchair one until I walked into the park with the heart of a gardener.
Like a flower opening, I felt some sense awaken ... that then expanded to include the whole earth. A gut sense, composed of all the sensations I receive from physically being alive within the planetary ecosystem, sharpened by understanding my need for its air and water and health and beauty.
Psychology, the study of the self, used to consider only human beings. Environmental activist Joanna Macy recounts how she was told there was something wrong with her for feeling grief at ecological destruction. Now eco-psychology defines self in terms of our interconnectedness with the whole of nature in which we are enmeshed. Macy calls this "the greening of the self."