How plants can help people grow

Danya Issawi, The New York Times

Posted at Aug 21 2020 05:35 AM

How plants can help people grow 1
Marcus Bridgewater in his backyard garden in Spring, Texas on July 22, 2020. Bridgewater's garden contains roughly 600 plants, made up of nearly 40 different verdure varieties. Antonio Chicaia, The New York Times/file

Marcus Bridgewater says that caring for his garden of roughly 600 plants, made up of nearly 40 different verdure varieties, is a way of caring for himself. “I believe it relates in a way of helping someone slow down to appreciate nuances that our world today does not necessarily encourage,” he said in an interview in July.

Posting as Garden Marcus on TikTok, Bridgewater, 33, has shown his 653,000 followers how planting a sweet potato vine in a new spot can help it flourish, a reminder that many living things can benefit from a change of scenery.

“It can be difficult to re-root, establish new relationships, grow beyond the old form, but it can also be what’s needed to create new and healthier roots in our future,” he said.

Bridgewater is one of several Black gardeners and farmers who have cultivated online followings in recent years. Christopher Griffin, who posts as @plantkween, preaches the pleasures of tending to and surrounding oneself with houseplants on Instagram. Cheyenne Sundance, the founder of a Toronto farm called Sundance Harvest, posts about food sovereignty as a form of liberation. Ron Finley, known as the Gangsta Gardener, leads a MasterClass course that has been called “one of the most popular” yet.

TikTok fame has been a relatively new development for Bridgewater; he had no idea the app existed until last December, when a college student he mentored suggested he make an account to share his gardening philosophy with the masses.

Bridgewater started learning about plant care in the garden of his adopted grandmother in Florida; some of his earliest memories from childhood are of watering the vibrant hibiscus flowers and orange trees that bloomed in her yard. But it wasn’t until adulthood that he learned how to keep his own plants alive and help them thrive.

“I saw this kind of reciprocation,” Bridgewater, who lives in Spring, Texas, and often dons a belt buckle befitting the state, said. “I found myself finding peace in my garden.”

Here, he explains how tending to a garden can be a symbiotic relationship, one that helps both plants and people flourish in their everyday lives.

Slow Down

There is a joy in watching plants, like a propagated pineapple, grow slowly over time.

“Think of how many people don’t realize they’re being impatient,” Bridgewater said. “They put a little water here, and they rush through the process.” Moving in a hurry, he said, may allow us to feel like we’re getting things done faster, but it often leads to overlooked details and backtracking.

Slowing down gives you the chance to be more intentional with your next steps. “I think we are experiencing high waves of anxiety and bombardment of information regularly,” he said. “But for me, slowing down and thinking about what to do next comes seamlessly through the garden.”

Let Nature Be Your Healer

Physical wellness is an instrument to mental wellness. And it comes in handy when shoveling soil and uprooting plants all day.

Maintaining physical fitness can be achieved in traditional ways, like practicing yoga, stretching and breath work, or through slightly unorthodox methods such as walking on your toes through the garden, like Bridgewater does, to work on balance.

There are other ways to encourage physical well-being while tending to one’s garden. Bridgewater recommended grounding, in which one makes direct contact with the earth with their bare feet or hands.

“Our bodies are batteries, and we need to energize them,” he said.

Show Compassion to Others

“In a pot with 10 different plants, to just look at one plant is to sacrifice probably three others,” Bridgewater said. “If I start coddling any one of my plants, I’m likely to fail many.”

After growing up in northern Florida, where he was often singled out for his speech impediment and for being the “token Black guy,” he came to equate living through adversity with being raised in a thorny rose bush.

“In these recent times, many of us who’ve had thorns in our side for our entire lifetime are having to go back through a process of addressing them,” Bridgewater said. “And because I have a ton of thorns all over, I am conscious of how wounded so many other people out there are.”

He said that navigating his own pain has taught him to be more compassionate toward others and their own experiences. “Many of us who have learned to grow in a pot with other people may be unrooting ourselves unintentionally because of these wounds,” he said.

Share Quality Time

Bridgewater suggests sharing thoughts and experiences and engaging in conversation as ways to feel more connected to oneself and others, especially in times of grief and social isolation.

“I think it’s important that we reach out to our loved ones, that we reach out to our friends,” he said. “Many of us are deprived of a good conversation.”

He takes time to speak to his plants and give them positive affirmations (it helps them grow, he said), so checking his attitude each time he enters his garden is crucial to making sure his vibrations don’t negatively affect his flora.

“If I don’t apply kindness in my voice, patience in my process and a peace in my spirit, chances are the things that I will do will prevent that growth from maximizing its potential,” Bridgewater said.