Gardening For Troubled Times

‘It was an uncertain spring.’ – Virginia Wolf, The Years

In times of trouble, I often turn to Voltaire’s Candide to help put things in perspective. In this classic satire, Candide and his companions undergo unspeakable hardships only to find themselves in the end alone, together. Faced with a new normal, Candide arrives at the only sensible conclusion.  “We must cultivate our garden,” he says.

I love the image of Candide’s rag tag group turning to the land for physical and spiritual renewal. And this is not because I, too, am a gardener. (Although the quote figures prominently in my About Me section.) Rather, it appeals to me on a basic human level. What better idea than to create life in the midst of chaos and to do so together.

Vineyard in Dordogne, France

Indeed, for the past weeks I have been receiving beautiful photos from my clients who are finding comfort in their gardens. Colorful images of tulips in vases, daffodils in woodlands and bouquets of sweet-scented Korean spice viburnum flood my inbox daily. And these are from both men and women, some of whom in ‘normal’ times are rarely at home long enough to notice what’s blooming.

Photo courtesy one of my DC clients

Or take, for example, my clients who are quarantined with family on their Virginia farm. Accomplished executives all, they have traded business suits for overalls and Ubers for tractors as together they work to maintain their property. I especially enjoy picturing the finance manager edging the beds in the kitchen garden.

Photo courtesy one of my Virginia clients

And at home, I watch with pleasure as my own New York City transplants pull weeds, prune shrubs and draw up plans for a series of raised vegetable gardens. So many heartwarming images from those of us staying home alone, together.


Yes, despite their best efforts to the contrary, Candide and his companions ultimately must adapt to the reality of their new world. Beaten into seclusion, they abandon their former naïve optimism to embrace a more practical outlook. Alone together, they turn to gardening to create a new reality. And in so doing, they begin to build a better world.

“If you are solitary, be not idle,” said writer Samuel Johnson.

A client’s Chesapeake Bay beach house

This pandemic has changed life as we know it. Yet in seclusion, many of us are rediscovering a sense of domestic happiness and joy in the simpler things of life. Gardening can help us forge deeper connections with ourselves and with those we love. It can also reconnect us with the earth. Staying at home offers us this priceless opportunity.

From gardens springs new life and from new life springs hope. Each seed you plant affirms your hope in the future. Each weed you pull makes room for something new to grow. Gardening is the perfect antidote to chaos. Take care of your own and the world will take care of itself. This is the moral of Candide.

Or, as my 90-year-old father recently said, “I hope that when we return to a more active life, we don’t spend our time filling up every little space again with meaningless activity.”


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About carole funger

I'm a landscape designer and Maryland Master Gardener living in the Washington, DC area. I blog about new trends in horticulture, inspiring gardens to visit and the latest tips and ideas for how to nurture your own beautiful garden. Every garden tells a story. What's yours?

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