My garden, the teacher, the healer

By Dr. Jacqueline Campbell

I grew up surrounded by lovely gardens. My maternal grandmother kept a rose garden in which she grew big, beautiful fragrant roses. My paternal grandma’s garden contained more of a variety of plants. Granny Campbell would frequently pick a bush here and a bush there, place them all in a cheese tin and light them to produce a mosquito repellent, which did not irritate us. She would allow me to use the sap from one of her plants to remove the warts on her neck. I use to love doing that. My granny allowed me to practice medicine long before I became a doctor.

My mother had a penchant for growing plants- especially roses, orchids, gladioli, and begonias. So the love of plants has been transferred to me from past generations.

Over the years, Mummy and I would travel to various plant shops to purchase plants for our garden. She would have me doing all manner of things to obtain plants. One day as we travelled along the Mandela Highway, she ordered me to stop and “retrieve” water lilies from a gully to place them in the fish pond in the backyard.  Our mutual love of plants strengthened our relationship as together we created a really beautiful garden.

I could not deal with the garden after she passed. It was still cared for by the gardener but it lacked that “personal touch”. Then one day as I sat in the silence viewing the garden, I decided to return to being me- I returned to my roots. The garden is now my therapy.

I am not alone in thinking of my garden as therapeutic. One of my dear elderly patients whose mobility is now limited (she uses a walker), recently told me that she still manages to do her gardening and care for her orchids. “Doctor, my garden is my therapy” she proudly informed me.

I recently had the pleasure of walking through the absolutely beautiful garden of another of my dear elderly patients who has decided that her garden is much more important to her than keeping her doctor’s appointment. I understand her viewpoint because part of her healing is attending to her plants and flowers.

The fact is that the simplest of actions can produce the most profound effects. I feel more connected to God and the earth when I am digging up soil and having dirt running through my fingers (yes, I do possess garden gloves, but nothing beats getting dirt on the hands). The feel of soil in my hands is grounding. When I am “drinking” in my garden, when I am attending to the plants, I can forget all my responsibilities, all the stress and just be at peace.

I have learnt many lessons from my garden.


There is a beautiful hibiscus plant which blooms bright yellow flowers. I love the plant and so do slugs. I decided that the destruction of the plant by the slugs must stop. So I went to battle with them. I decided that I would not be applying any chemicals to the plants (after all I make my own neem insecticide and this has served the garden very well).

I have used at different times blue soap pieces, coffee grounds, egg shells, neem leaves scattered in the soil surrounding the hibiscus. I even made a beer slug trap, as seen on YOU TUBE. I was so proud of the trap that I called my brother to view it. He was not impressed. What really happened was that the slugs drank the Red Stripe beer that was in the trap but did not die as I thought that they would.

I had to resort to using chemicals- they worked for a time.  I also spent many nights in the garden, armed with a flashlight and salt, killing slugs. I was obsessed. However the slugs have continued to eat the hibiscus despite my best efforts.

So I decided to step back. Once in a while I will go out in the night and kill slugs. Sometimes I use the chemical slug bait. The plant is still alive with its slug battered leaves.



Insects (particularly bees, wasps, mosquitoes and ants) love me. Unfortunately I have terrible allergies to insect stings and have even ended up in hospital after been stung by an insect while I was in the garden. I have encountered snakes in the garden (albeit small ones). However I still go out into the garden- I spray myself with repellent, cover my shoulders, carefully look in the flowerpots and press on.




Sometime ago I placed a blooming sun Vanda in an island in the garden. The Vanda has now grown to about five feet tall, has two “limbs” and very healthy leaves and roots. I have given this plant all that I believe that it needs to thrive – twice daily watering, regular fertilization and ample sunlight. However it will not bloom. Lately I have found myself saying to the plant “Bloom, dammit, bloom”.



I love yellow poui trees. There is a beautiful one on the front lawn. It produces the most spectacular display of yellow flowers. I love to park my car under the tree so that the flowers can fall on my car, enveloping it in a yellow blanket. I will drive this flower covered car on the road with the hope that I spread happiness as the flowers fall to the ground.

Many years ago, when a relative got married, the guests were given trees as souvenirs. I took my gift home and placed it at the base of the poui tree. This gift has grown into a most majestic neem tree which has diminished the impact of the poui tree when it is blooming.

I decided that I wanted a poui tree in another part of the garden. I was told that the poui tree would not thrive in that area. But I was adamant that I wanted the tree in that spot. After I planted it, the tree began to look frail, it lost its leaves and I started to doubt my decision. Anyway I continued to water and fertilize the tree and it is now growing big and strong.



A relative received an orchid as a gift. I was asked to care for the orchid- a lovely Phalaenopsis – because “I have no idea what to do with this plant. I have killed a number of orchids”. The orchid is thriving under my care.

LESSON LEARNT: “YOU DO NOT NEED TO ACCEPT EVERYTHING THAT YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN” OR as we say in Jamaica “IS NOT EVERYTIN’ YU GET YU MUS’ TEK” A dear friend says that he wished that he had learnt this lesson when he was young.

As we journey through the garden of life, may each step we take bring us delight, peace and love. Let us be centres of radiant light and life.

Best wishes for 2017.

(Dr. Jacqueline E. Campbell is a family physician, university lecturer and pharmacologist. She is the author of the book “A patient’s guide to the treatment of diabetes mellitus.”)