Perfect moments, memories, and the aging in place garden

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who so memorably played Dr. Spock in the Star Trek television series, died February 27, 2015 at age 83. His final tweet:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved except in memory.”

So, what are your memories about gardens? Some people have deep and pleasant memories about gardening as children.

  • Perhaps you helped Grandpa harvest, your hands gently sweeping off the dirt from small red new potatoes when he forked up the soil.
  • Perhaps you sneaked into the pea patch and ate fresh peas right out of the pod before they could be served at the dinner table.
  • Or perhaps you picked wild chamomile flowers from the lawn at the bottom of the hill and made herbal teas with these blossoms mixed with rose hips.
Potatoes, Peru - Creative Commons license

Potatoes, Peru - Creative Commons license

An aging-in-place garden can be deliberately planned to elaborate on your joyous memories about gardens and can help create new ones.

One thing we know about memory is that the brain builds interconnections through similarities and patterns. And these patterns are bonded more tightly with sensory experiences and your emotions. Stop for a minute and close your eyes. Now imagine yourself taking the first bite of your favorite pie. Today’s imagination draws on your previous experience, and that memory includes remembering the weight of the fork in your hand, seeing the color of the pie filling on the place with the toasty brown crispy crust ready to shatter as your fork cuts it, feeling yourself start to salivate as you anticipate the wonderful taste.

The same sensory connections are lurking in your brain when you recall marvelous experiences with nature.

Did you stand under a flowering apple tree as a child, immersed in white petals as the wind bounced the branches and loosened the flowers? Did you have a favorite maple tree branch you climbed into for reading and can still see the glittering green of the tree’s leaves in midsummer sunlight?Memories can be drawn out through all kinds of sensory exercises, then used as a starting point for your special garden.

If a standard apple tree would take too long to mature, what about a dwarf tree in a container, on a base high enough to sit under when it blooms? If apple trees won’t grow where you live now, maybe a shrub such as spirea, also called  bridal wreath, can make the visual connection for you.

Mexican plum blossom in early February

Mexican plum blossom in early February

When you deliberately re-shape your yard or garden for memories, you strengthen the neural pathways every time your experience now helps you recall the past. And you are building new connections between the beloved plants you knew “once upon a time” and those of today.

To use Leonard Nimoy’s phrase, what memory of a “perfect moment” do you want to add to your aging-in-place garden today?