From the Archives: Spring 2005 Issue of Lupus Now Magazine
Gardens Made in the Shade
Don’t let sun sensitivity keep you from cultivating your green thumb
By Maureen Pratt
Seven years ago, I joined the almost 1.5 million Americans who have been diagnosed with lupus. My beloved gardening life then turned upside down. As those with lupus know, one thing that can bring about serious symptom flares and complications is something I love dearly—sunshine. No amount of sunscreen and sun-protective clothing can cover up the basic fact of life for those of us with lupus: The sun is our enemy. As a plant-lover and apartment gardener, the news that I had to stay out of the sun was agonizing. At a time when my stress was at its highest level, I was faced with giving up the deep, abiding pleasure that puttering in my small garden brings, and the great stress-relieving action of “playing in the dirt.” Worse, I thought I’d have to get rid of my sun-drenched miniature roses and my indoor light-loving African violets—all dear to my heart.
Facing the loss of sun-time activity was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. It was a true mourning process, complete with tears, bargaining, denial, and anger. But it was also a great learning process, and one that opened up a whole other world of gardening.
Gradually, I learned to become used to maintaining much of my garden “after hours,” when the sun is down. Night gardening, I now know, is a favorite pastime of lupus patients nationwide, and certainly in Southern California, where the daily dose of sunshine would create potentially life-threatening problems. To my delight and amazement, I saw that my plants would respond just as well to my tending them in the very early morning or evening. And, with the help of my local garden center, I also learned about the abundance of shade-loving plants that, like me, would wilt if exposed to sunshine.
Begonias, I’ve found, have gorgeous flowers and foliage—in the shade! Fuchsia are spectacular, dramatic and showy plants—in the shade! Diplodenia will creep up one wall of my balcony and yield lovely trumpet-shaped blossoms—in the shade! Geraniums, too, will bloom constantly and truly—in the shade!
I’ve fine-tuned my apartment garden to include plants that get full-shade and can be tended during the day, and those sun-loving plants that I can successfully nurture at night. My African violets are still happy, my roses still blooming. The newest additions to my garden, those shade-loving plants, are glorious.
Most of all, my time of mourning the loss of a “normal” gardening life is past. Acceptance, like springtime, is a renewal of spirit and resolve to make lemonade of lemons and find good in bad. Living with lupus has not gotten easier. But being able to have the benefits of gardening—contact with the earth, a sense of nurturing, relaxation—are invaluable coping tools, and I make constant, good use of them. Moreover, as I look at the cheery blossoms on my balcony, I can’t wait to discover my next gardening treasure, an expectation that assures me that I certainly have it “made in the shade!”
Maureen Pratt is co-author, with David Hallegua, M.D., of Taking Charge of Lupus: How to Manage the Disease and Make the Most of Your Life, which earned the LFA Seal of Approval in 2003. This article was reprinted with permission from California Gardener, where it won first place in the magazine’s essay contest last summer.
The Garden Helper (www.thegardenhelper.com) offers a resource link devoted to “Gardening in the Shade” that lists plants, shrubs, and ground covers that thrive in full and partial shade.
National Gardening Association (www. garden.org) is a nonprofit organization to help beginner gardeners get started and keep old pro gardeners inspired. The site includes a library with more than 300 in-depth gardening articles, a buyer’s guide, and how-to projects.
Ergonomic Gardening Tools (www.lifewithease.com) will make your gardening chores a breeze.
Also try Comfy Country Creations (www.comfycountrycreations.com) for helpful tools, gardening articles, and more.