Are Nurses Attracted to Gardening Because We Work in Close Proximity to Death?

On a beautiful late spring morning, I sat in my favorite chair, sipping coffee and writing. Through the window, I watched a hummingbird sip from the newly-potted salvia on our tiny deck. He is so at home that he actually perched on the railing while drinking from the tubular blossoms.

Hummingbird by jparadisi
Hummingbird by jparadisi

It was satisfying to watch. The hummingbird’s presence deepened my enjoyment of our small container garden.

Years ago, before changing course to make time for painting and writing, I had a huge garden. The limitations of container gardening make me miss my ambitious gardens of the past. As I write, I imagine a larger garden after I retire from nursing, whenever that may be.

What is the connection between nurses and gardens? I don’t think I know a nurse who doesn’t grow something, if only a lowly houseplant on a windowsill. Every spring, it’s common to find potted plant starts in the staff room from one nurse’s garden brought for another nurse to plant. I know nurses who raise prize-winning orchids. Another farms trees in his spare time.

Are we attracted to gardening because we work in close proximity to death? Does placing a dormant seed into carefully prepared soil, waiting for it to burst forth and blossom, satisfy something in our souls, deeper than merely beautifying our homes?

Nurses wear gloves to prevent soil from staining our fingers, keeping them from seeming unsightly as we palpate a patient’s vein to start an IV. Still, garden soil often seems cleaner, more wholesome, than the invisible bacteria populating the skin of human beings.

At work I overheard nurses giving one another advice on killing garden slugs. I was horrified when one said she snips them in half with garden shears. However, a few days later, when I found one in my container garden, I didn’t think twice about dowsing the poor creature in salt. Encrusted, he reared up, pillar-like, then moved no more. Was my action any less cruel because it evokes the Biblical image of Lot’s Wife? Are my coworkers and I applying oncology principles to gardening: both tumors and slugs must be removed, either through cutting (surgery) or by chemo?

My final observation about nurses and gardening is this: how little nurturing we are inclined to lend a plant for its survival. Universally, I hear, “If it doesn’t live, it’s not meant to be,” and I share this sentiment about plants. I wonder if nurses have such low tolerance for a plant’s inability to thrive because we give so much of our hearts to our patients?

1 Comment

  1. It is almost magical when you get to see a hummingbird at rest. They seem to always be moving! They make a great analogy for a nurse!


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