Planting Happiness: Lessons from the Garden

May 15, 2023 Joanna Satterwhite

For Mother's Day, I asked my mom what my post this week should be about. She loves to give advice, and I figured a fresh perspective would brighten my writing. When she immediately suggested I write about gardening, I decided to run with "planting happiness."

In full disclosure, I myself don't have a garden. I look forward to a future where I live in one place for longer than a growing season, but for now, I have my mother's beautiful gardens to appreciate and learn from. A lifelong horticulture nerd, my mom has a yard overflowing with flora. She knows the common and Latin names of hundreds of plants as well as their environmental preferences; she knows how to start seeds and foster them to hardy maturity; she can whip out a floral arrangement that rivals the showiest wedding bouquets. Her technical knowledge of botany and its adjacent disciplines is certainly impressive, but it's the wisdom she's gained from a lifetime of growing plants that I've always found most compelling. She's learned how to plant happiness.

What Does Planting Happiness Have to Do with Gardening?

Gardening Teaches How to Live

One revelation that her hobby has granted her and that she's long since passed down to me is an appreciation for the cycle of life and death. I remember being eight or nine and glumly watching as a tree removal crew took down one of my favorite oaks, which had fallen ill. My mother turned my mourning into an opportunity for hope when she explained to me how the understory (the vegetation beneath the tree's canopy) would now have a chance to thrive. Near where the trunk still sits, Dogwoods and Carolina Silverbells now stand tall and proud. Sometimes when I can't sleep at night for fear of death (a frequent occurrence), I think about the death of the oak and all of the life it's engendered. 

Another lesson that my mother taught me through all of her years in the garden is the importance of having something to nurture. When she fell very ill a decade and a half ago, it was her garden that brought her back to life. The dahlias needed to be staked, and the vegetable patch weeded. A world in her backyard depended on her, and she had never taken that responsibility lightly. Her life wasn't hers alone to waste or wither. Having something to take care of—day after day, season after season—has kept her vigorous and present, and I've no doubt she'll be covered in dirt for years to come. That's what I call planting happiness.

Gardening and the Importance of Celebrating Life 

The most important lesson that I've learned under my mom's tutelage, however, is to celebrate life, its abundance, and its beauty. Mother's Day or a regular Tuesday, my mom's kitchen is filled with cut flowers, homegrown produce, and cuttings being rooted in glasses of water. These displays do the job of art better than any still life might: reminding the viewer just how gorgeous life is, even in its simplest gestures. 

Voltaire, the 18th-century French writer, closes his most famous work, Candide, with the oft-quoted line, "We must cultivate our garden." My mom is pretty sure she came up with that first, but unlike Voltaire, she means it literally. I think she's right. One day, I hope to grow tomatoes and wisdom too. 

APA Reference
Satterwhite, J. (2023, May 15). Planting Happiness: Lessons from the Garden, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Joanna Satterwhite

Joanna is a writer and teacher based in Atlanta. Find her on Substack and Instagram

Leave a reply