Gardening without gardening

Leaving your mind blank can give you space for other things. Like admiring this use of chives as an ornamental.

I’ve been quiet for a few weeks on the blog and Twitter. You might call it Unsocial Media. Or, in garden terms, The Silence of the Lamb’s Ears.

The quiet surface belies the currents beneath. Serious, unresolved health issues in the family – an ongoing worry. Trying to stay balanced with feet in two lines of work. One-too-many volunteer commitments. Rain. Lots of rain. The ever-distracting mess at Toronto Silly Hall. And, apropos of that, half a cubic yard of duck poo to shift (though we crossed that one off a few Saturdays ago).

I share this, not for sympathy, but to say: sometimes, a pile-up on life’s highway leaves you stuck in traffic. There’s nothing much you can do, but wait for things to clear.

Nothing much, I mean, but stay in the here and now, which is what I’m reminding myself to do. Look around. Take it all in. There’s always something to see.

I mean, this gardener really went for it! Look how prettily it blends with the salvia in the neighbour’s garden.

I’ve written before about these next two things, but one of the best ideas I retained from Marjorie Harris’ groundbreaking book The Canadian Gardener was her concept of Creative Staring. The proof of its bestness is that I still use it 23 years later: Staring at my own garden – sometimes fast-forwarding into the future but sometimes just wordlessly inviting ideas in – and keeping my eyes open as I walk around the city, as I often do. In my interpretation of Harris’ trick, you plug in your eyes and unplug
your mind. This might not be what Harris meant, but it works for me.

It’s like the mental digestion phase James Webb Young writes about in his wonderful little book A Technique for Producing Ideas (which I wrote about here). Part of Young’s method is to go away and not actively think about your problem to let the solution percolate.

Sometimes the mind, like a farmer’s field, needs to go fallow, as this blog has done. Things are growing there, but for a while they’ve been too inchoate (great word) or vague to express. Hoping for germination soon. Check back and see.


  1. Yep! I've heard that phrase Creative Staring, or Constructive Staring, but never knew where it came from. I do it too. I'm sure my husband thinks I'm just admiring my own handiwork, but I'm really thinking and imagining. I hope your unresolved health issues get resolved in a good way.

  2. I have thanked Marjorie Harris, unbeknownst to her, so many times for the term Creative Staring. It elevates my morning wander through the garden, coffee in hand and mind unplugged, to a whole new level. And all the while the percolating and germinating, unbeknownst to me, is happening.

    Hoping that the pile up on your highway clears and you can journey on your way with a little percolating and germinating as you go.

    Donna in Nova Scotia

  3. Helen .. many of us know exactly what you are talking about … you are not alone girl : )
    We need time to ourselves .. it is almost as important as an actual prescription to cure an illness figuratively and literally !
    I have to get that book .. although I think I do a lot of creative staring as it is .. I would like to read about it in solid print to make sure I am doing it correctly ? LOL
    Take your time out and embrace it totally … life keeps ticking.
    Joy : )
    Love the chive idea!

  4. Thank you, kind readers! It seems to be a time of life for many people. Wishing us all a hopeful resolution to our cares. Happy summer!

  5. Yup..I am with Donna (a sister Nova Scotian) who wrote "Hoping that the pile up on your highway clears and you can journey on your way with a little percolating and germinating as you go." I like the phrase you used..stuck in traffic! My life's been like that for a few months too. Thanks for writing I must get back to creatively staring at what CAN BE!

  6. I have to read that book and will check out your post. I find my best ideas come from what he described. Stop thinking and the ideas flow. I too look forward to seeing you in SF. It is a long flight! I should have left from Toronto, but am meeting Carolyn in Philadelphia instead.

  7. Greetings,

    My name is Jesse. I run a youtube channel called tdotgardner84 where I feature various videos from Toronto's urban gardening scene. I am thinking maybe we could connect if you sisters got the time later on.

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