If you ask Debbie L. about her garden, she lights up a smile and answers, “It’s full of friends.” The twenty-year nursing veteran likes to walk among the flowers after work and remember the friends who gifted her a seedling, swapped a packet of seeds, or re-homed a tree or plant with her. Debbie recently moved to a beautiful two acre farmette in the Appalachian foothills, transplanting many of her “friends” to the rich humus she found there. Geraniums, Shasta daisies, and oak leaf hydrangeas, for their deer resistance and three-season show, are among her favorites. Ever appreciative of the bounty of her garden, and an avid recycler, Debbie recycles clean plastic containers from work to package seeds for other nurses. A volunteer Buddleia davidii, or butterfly bush, is gently extracted, placed in a recycled container and left for adoption on the breakroom table. She donates brightly decorated, recycled pots with her seedlings for unit raffles and gifts, and includes fresh herbs and garden vegetables in her pot-luck contributions for staff meetings.
For Debbie, nursing and gardening have gone hand in hand. She started out in the pediatric intensive care unit, and quickly realized that the demands of caring for the most vulnerable of children required balance. Gardening became her secret source of staying power for two decades in critical care: CVICU, OR, ER, ICU and IMC. Debbie borders on philosophical when describing the effect that the fragrance of lavender, or the joy of harvesting a ripe, red tomato has on her spirit after a day of titrating drips, calming delirious patients or soothing anxious families. She turns to the garden, “to fill my soul after seeing all this sadness.” There are lessons to be learned too, from observing the way things grow. What flowers grow and thrive in this corner of the garden may not work in the bed over there. Sowing, digging, weeding, mulching, and fertilizing soon become contemplating, releasing, renewing and peace.
Two new beehives are the latest addition to Debbie’s garden. At first she wore the beekeeper suit, gloves and netting for protection, but then she discovered that the bees became familiar with her routine, and recognized that she was not a threat. She now describes her two hives as docile, and busy. The primary reason for bees was to preserve their function as pollinators. “Bees are in trouble,” Debbie reports. Colony collapse disorder has been frustrating beekeepers for over a decade, with up to 30% of bees being lost every year. Experts don’t agree on the cause of colony collapse disorder, but beekeepers cite the ubiquitous use of the pesticide, neonicotinoid, in conjunction with the destructive varroa mite as being responsible for the loss of their hives. There is some good news: the loss has slowed in recent years as beekeepers work with amateurs like Debbie, and local governments plant bee and butterfly friendly gardens in public places, providing much needed bee habitat.
Debbie has found the key to thriving in the often harsh critical care landscape. The seeds she plants provide sustenance for body and soul. “Seeds…you can’t see them all winter, but they come back. There is a renewal.” As for advice to nurses who want to go green and enjoy a garden? Debbie thinks a moment and says with a knowing look, “Get free plants. A real gardener shares.”