Debbie Arrington

Seeds: Zen of gardening maintains her spirit

Author Fran Sorin has updated her “Digging Deep” book.
Author Fran Sorin has updated her “Digging Deep” book.

How are we supposed to enjoy gardening in the heat of summer?

The weather feels like a blast furnace, and we’re miserly measuring our water due to the unending drought. The lawn has gone several shades of dusty brown. Everything looks parched if not sunburned or dead. Even the succulents seem a bit ragged.

With so many chores and so much heat, July can suck the joy out of gardening. Fran Sorin’s advice? Throw out the “to do” list. Take a deep breath and just slow down.

Enter your garden with new eyes, not expectations. Focus on tasks with a single-mindfulness, being in the moment with nature. Practice the zen of gardening and rediscover the inner joy of growing things. And what will grow most is your own creativity and happiness.

Sorin gardens on two levels, both physically and metaphysically. A familiar face on television and voice on radio, the longtime broadcaster and popular motivational speaker approaches gardening like yoga. It rejuvenates the mind and spirit as well as exercises muscles.

“Multitasking is not the way to garden,” Sorin said in a phone interview. “Take one task at a time and do it deeply. That’s the way to do it well. Slow down. Be mindful. Enjoy what you’re doing. That’s a real shift in thinking.”

Sorin recently updated her beloved book “Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening” (Braided Worlds Publishing, 210 pages, $14.95), with a 10th anniversary edition.

A lot has changed in Sorin’s life since she originally wrote “Digging Deep.” She gave up her sprawling Philadelphia garden and now spends eight months a year in Israel where she can be closer to her daughter and young grandson. The rest of the year, she’s back in the United States, speaking and writing about cultivating creativity through gardening.

Sorin still gardens – on the rooftop of a Tel Aviv apartment. It’s hot and dry like Sacramento, and Sorin says sometimes it feels a little dangerous due to the Middle East’s political climate. But she followed her family.

“I went from a huge suburban garden to the rooftop to be close to my children,” she said. “I grow perennials for a cutting garden and vegetables, so I still have a chance to get my hands dirty.”

She means that literally. “I never wear gloves,” Sorin said with a laugh. “I’ve got to get my hands in the soil, feel the earth.”

While a lot has changed in her own gardening life, Sorin and her book remain true to her message.

“I was surprised at what I was on to 10 years ago,” she said. “My beliefs have not changed; they’ve only gotten stronger. I’m basically a gardening evangelist. Kids should be taught gardening from the time they’re young.”

Yes, gardening can teach a lot, such as how nature works and where food comes from. But Sorin prefers to use gardening as a tool to teach creativity.

“We see too many people who are into competitive gardening,” she said. “They’re like marathoners; they just keep going and going.

“Most people walk around and see work; ‘I’ve got to do this, this and that,’” she added. “It’s constant anxiety. That’s not necessarily bad, but they don’t get that much enjoyment out of the time they spend in their garden. Life becomes one long to-do list – throw it out!”

Just as you might make time for yoga or a trip to the gym, treat your garden time the same way.

“Take 30 minutes each morning to just walk around your garden and observe,” she said. “Turn off the cellphone. Get into a meditative mindset. It’s about building a relationship; you’re tending your garden and to be a gardener is to nurture.

“Then, really take your time before you decide what to do today – or any day. Focus on that task instead of letting your mind wander. Like pulling weeds; each time I enjoy it more. I really love pulling the weeds and just appreciating it, that time spent in nature and nurturing.”

Yes, Sorin found the joy of weeding. Because pulling weeds helps the garden thrive and the inner gardener along with it. With that attitude, those chores in the heat of summer no longer seem so burdensome.

“It’s really about breaking habits and opening up possibilities,” Sorin said. “Gardening is calming and meditative; people desperately need that now. It’s never too late to discover the zen of gardening. It sounds hokey at the beginning, but it’s a wonderful way to garden.”