This spring issue of the Norwich Times happens to coincide with the time of greatest change in the Upper Valley.  We go from cold nights and snow covered ground in early March, to the warm (sometimes hot) days, spring rains, and long hours of light of late May.  In between there are ice events, spring flooding, mud, and the long awaited greening of trees and lawns…oh, and the flowers – who can forget the flowers.

Is there a greater boost to morale after many months of icy roads, snow covered driveways, and dirty snow piles than the seeing the colorful spring blooms of the hyacinths, crocuses and daffodils?  The pleasure realized when those first shoots from bulbs planted the previous year, appear on a warm spring day?  For many of our friends, neighbors, and ourselves, those long awaited events touch and rejuvenate the soul.

Whether we tend our own gardens, hire professionals for the work, or admire neighbors’ gardens, Norwich folks seem to have a particular affinity for gardens and gardening.  Norwich homeowner Heather Benson exemplifies the manner in which gardening becomes more than a mere landscaping project.   “Many years ago, we created several perennial gardens in an effort to spruce up the landscaping around our home,” she says.   “In that effort, I discovered that the color and beauty did more than help our lack of landscaping – it lifted my spirits and created enjoyment.”

A love of growing, gardening often results from those first efforts.  A kind of spiritual awakening, if you will.  Even for those whose livelihoods involve tilling the soil, that spiritual experience of gardening does not disappear.

Norwich gardener Norah Lake not only operates a commercial farm (Sweetland Farm), she tends her own gardens for personal enjoyment.  “It’s funny to take off my farmer hat and put on my gardener hat for a few minutes,” she says.  “But gardening and farming have always held different places in my heart. Even while growing rows and acres of production vegetables I still see a place in my life for gardening as well.”

Norah goes on to explain how personal gardening is not only relaxing for her, but also proves inspiring.  “The pace and scale of gardening are important factors in my enjoyment of it. When working in my garden I give myself space and time to observe, enjoy, and just be. I am outdoors experiencing the beauty of nature in all its facets. I am feeling the warmth of the sun or the crumble of the soil or the texture of the foliage.  I am immersing myself in the color of an unfurling poppy or a butterfly’s wing or the pruning shears against the backdrop of a harvest basket.”

Gardening is work – no doubt about it.  Turning the soil, forming the beds, mulching, weeding, planting, fall cleanup – all require a physical investment.  Yet the pains involved, for most, are far surpassed by the joys realized.

For those unable to handle the physical work involved, there are gardening professionals around to help.  Mary Ellen Treadway tends gardens around the Upper Valley professionally, primarily perennial flower gardens.  Does tending the gardens of others lessen the enjoyment received from gardening?  “No, tending others’ gardens is satisfying, as those gardens become a part of you,” she says.

Especially today, concerns about health, both physical and emotional, are uppermost in our minds.  Valerie Woodhouse, of Norwich’s Honey Field Farm, explains how gardening benefits health.  “The garden is a place of nurturing and growth for both the plants and their caretakers.  There’s so many ways that the garden decreases stress, combats depression, gives us a sense of purpose and hope.  It invites us to get swept up in the act of planting seeds or pulling weeds, and be fully present for a moment or two.  Simply digging your hands into the soil releases serotonin which relieves stress and lifts your spirit.”

Valerie also describes the cooperative nature of gardening – the gardener, and nature.  “The garden seems to reflect what we need most.  For me, that’s the constant reminder to take a minute to pause, step back, and appreciate the transformation I’m a part of whether it went as planned or not.  It’s enjoying the beauty, smells and tastes even more because we created and overcame it together.”

Those benefits, physical, emotional, spiritual, are summed up by Heather Benson.  “I love being outside…weeding, planting, harvesting, and tending of the garden is another way for me to be in the fresh air and sunshine. Gardening nurtures my body and soul on so many levels and it somehow feels like much more than just a pastime.”