Talking about shared interests, such as gardening, is a wonderful way to deepen relationships with patients.
Connecting with Patients | March 20, 2023 | 5 min read
By Ken Koon Wong, MD, Cleveland Clinic, Naomi Tyree, MD, Summa Health, Ohio
Gardening is a multi-generation cross cultural way to connect, a wonderful way to be in nature. From cutting-edge mycorrhiza soil supplements to traditional permaculture techniques, vegetables can bring people together.
Gardening may provide therapeutic benefits for those with mental or physical health conditions, fostering a sense of accomplishment and connection to nature. Planting, nurturing, and harvesting offers a meditative and calming experience. Lazy gardening emphasizes minimal effort and can be a relaxing and enjoyable activity with a focus on the process, observation, and appreciation of the natural cycles of growth and decay. Utilization of low-maintenance plants, mulching to reduce watering and weeding, and letting nature take its course and embracing the benefits of gardening without feeling overwhelmed. We simplify into phases: preparation, patience, and acceptance.
Fall and winter envelop us in preparation: flipping through seed catalogs and planning to sow seeds of an interesting vegetable or plant or the yearly success-guaranteed vegetables. Time to reflect on successes, learn from failures, and dream of hopes for the season. We anticipate adding to our bulbs in hopes that it will show us the first glimmer of spring in the wintery canvas. This phase provides warmth and hope in a cold and white season. Reflecting cultivates discipline in expecting reward when seeds sprout or bear fruit and teaches that sometimes the best moments in life are anticipation and process rather than results. The sense of possibility and the beauty of companionship with those that partake in the journey. It brings us great joy to sow seeds indoors, forget about them, and see seedlings poking through the soil, reminding us of the changing season.
This process helps cultivate relationships with patients. Every encounter is an opportunity to sow seeds of trust, respect, and empathy. When we take the time to listen to patients, understand concerns, and treat all with kindness and compassion, we improve health outcomes and strengthen the bond of trust.
Microclimate is key; in gardening this refers to a set of environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, wind, and sunlight, in a specific area that differs from the overall climate. Mulching and a balanced soil food web are essential to create nutrients for plants to thrive. Before the season starts, we place cardboard on raised beds with a top layer of leaves to suppress weeds from sprouting. Techniques include chop and drop where you pull or chop weeds and lay them down as mulch which serves as food and shelter for insects and provides water retention and regulates soil temperature.
Practicing patience is essential for healthcare professionals as it can be challenging to navigate the healthcare system. By nurturing a patient-centered approach, we create a microclimate environment that supports and guides patients to understand health conditions by giving our patients time, space, and the support they need to process and understand complex medical information. Practicing patience is actively caring by explaining conditions, discovering barriers, and helping empower patients to develop a personalized care plan that meets their unique needs and fosters trust.
Immersing ourselves in the symphony of insects, bees, ladybugs, and Japanese beetles buzzing around flowers and vegetables we have planted is a rejuvenating experience. Buckwheat is a cover crop that attracts bees. In the noon hour you can hear bees buzzing around buckwheat flowers collecting nectar and occasionally catch a glimpse of a hummingbird fluttering by to partake in a sweet and sustaining sip from a flower before darting off. Colors and scent parade through the shimmer of morning light to the hue of evening dusk – the same plant perhaps but seen in a different shade creates a unique experience with every venture to the garden to view the lush greens and flower petals. Flowers perfume, the scent of plant leaves, and the smell of well-decomposed compost are ever so lively. Limited maintenance is needed by summer, not even watering. We spend most of our free time delighting in the summer experience. We explore the evening hours carefully because mosquitoes come out and play. We typically carry repellent around with a pair of secateurs in the evening to cut flowers for home decoration or to harvest a fresh ripened discovery.
Cooler temperatures remind us to prepare bulbs. Planning for garlic bulbs is an easy addition to the harvest variety. A scattering of tulip, hyacinth, and daffodil bulbs are planted in well-drained soil with the hopes of providing a flush of color in the early spring. Plan to give the bulbs a month’s head start on growth before frost and plant them twice as deep as the bulb size to lessen the chance of rotting or getting nibbled by a curious hungry squirrel or chipmunk.
As the season changes, we watch with a cup of warmth as the plant stalks fade. Hearty stalks remain adding a canvas for the frozen landscape to drape over and icicles to glisten. When it is time to begin again, the plant can easily be cut at the base and laid down or even chopped up as mulch to decompose and reinvigorate the soil.
Cultivating relationships with patients promotes trust and open communication. We must recognize that life is unpredictable and that our patients will face difficulties beyond our control. In these situations, practicing patience and acceptance are vital.
Reflecting that we gave the highest quality care possibly helps us ensure that patients feel supported and comforted by our efforts and expertise. Maintaining focus on cultivating strong relationships, encouraging patience, and accepting the unpredictable nature of life, provides the best possible care and support for patients and their families. When the harvest is not as anticipated, finding comfort and joy in the journey and endeavoring toward shared goals leads to greater satisfaction for all even when the outcome is not as hoped.
And finally . . .
Lazy gardening is taking it easy, to enjoy and embrace the healing process of gardening. There’s always a grocery store if your garden doesn’t produce bok choy or tomato for the season, but the gardening experience is priceless. By focusing on preparation, patience, and acceptance, you can create a garden that is easy to maintain and provides a peaceful, nurturing, stress-free environment year after year. Best of all, it is not only good for you, but great for patient care.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.