“‘Don’t let cancer define you, Jenny.’ So how did I not let cancer define me? Not knowing anything better, I simply kept doing what I knew to do. And one of those things was gardening….I’m not going to lie – I had many days when I did not feel like gardening. But I decided to change my approach and focus on small, doable tasks….little by little, my relationship with plants and my garden became the thing that turned me around – body, mind and spirit. No, it wasn’t easy. Nothing about cancer and cancer treatment is easy. But it was my reality, and I was determined to find some place where I could thrive and experience joy again.”
From time to time, I like to take a break from literary fiction and literary nonfiction at Books Can Save a Life to feature a slow living book that gets me out of my head and inspires me to enjoy the moment. I especially love the unique gardening books published by St. Lynn’s Press, so I was thrilled when they sent me a review copy of The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion.
This book is especially meaningful to me because over a year ago my brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Sadly, my brother passed away in the fall. As I thumbed through the pages of The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion, I wished Jenny Peterson‘s book had been available earlier. It would have been a wonderful gift for my brother and his family. From now on, The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion will be part of any care package I might give to friends and loved ones with health challenges.
Jenny’s book is filled with simple and enjoyable gardening activities to restore body, mind, and spirit, especially during treatment. I thought about my brother’s small backyard garden, which was a bit neglected after his diagnosis, and how this book might have inspired him to continue enjoying manageable tasks on his tiny plot of tomatoes and eggplants.
One of my fondest memories of that difficult time was the afternoon we decided to make jam from the two old crab apple trees and the grapevines in my brother’s backyard. Joe and my sister-in-law had never picked or eaten the tiny crab apples, and we had no idea how the jam would turn out. We had fun all afternoon picking, cooking, and then tasting the deep purple and ruby colored jams, which turned out delicious.
Jenny Peterson is so right about the restorative powers of gardens and nature, because that afternoon my brother really enjoyed sorting and de-stemming the crab apples, the aroma of fruit cooking over the stove, and tasting the still-warm jam. I think he appreciated the little miracle of new and unexpected late-summer bounty from his backyard.
Wellness + Mindfulness + Gardening
Jenny Peterson, a writer and landscape designer with degrees in psychology and theology, is also a survivor of breast cancer and skin cancer. She wrote The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion not as a how-to gardening book, but “to encourage people who are diagnosed with cancer, going through cancer treatment, healing from cancer or living with cancer to view their gardens, plants and outdoor spaces as resources in creating the healthiest and most balanced life possible. Life can be difficult, but it can also be profoundly beautiful, and our gardens are the best teachers of this.”
So, you don’t have to be an experienced gardener, or even a gardener at all, to enjoy and benefit immensely from The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion. The activities, each centered around body, mind, or spirit, can be scaled up or scaled down, depending on needs and energy levels.
“Survivor Spotlights” feature gardening tips from individuals who have had a cancer diagnosis.
Jenny Peterson talks about her own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges during radiation, chemotherapy, and other treatments, and how she turned to her garden as both a haven and good medicine. She genuinely understands the rigors of cancer treatment and is deeply empathetic, warm, and encouraging.
The Garden That Heals: Body + Mind + Spirit
Her suggestions for restorative and healing garden activities include:
- Gardening for cardio exercise, strength and flexibility, strong bones, circulation & boosting the immune system
- Ideas for building a yoga deck garden
- Beneficial fruits, vegetables and herbs for nourishment and strength during treatment, including aromatherapy and herbal remedies
- Garden design, problem solving, and nature photography to relax the mind and keep it sharp
- Sharing the garden with friends and family by hosting seed and plant sharing parties, social hours, and other events
- Garden-themed music to enjoy
- Prayer, meditation, and mindful movement, including labyrinths, suggested mantras, garden altars, and tea ceremonies
There is an appendix with suggested books (fiction and nonfiction), excellent health information sites, and sources for garden tools and clothing.
I love these other books published by St. Lynn’s Press, too:
Slow Flowers, by Debra Prinzing
Windowsill Art, by Nancy Ross Hugo
The Herb Lover’s Spa Book, by Sue Goetz
If you have a personal story of gardening, illness and health, please share. I’d love to hear about your own gardening book favorites, too.