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Why I Believe That Plants Are Healers

Some of the enthusiastic greenery that is thriving inside my turtles’ enclosures (no thanks to me).

My mom is really good with plants. Of course, like many talented gardeners, she swears she is not at all good with plants.

But I know that she is. The reason I know this is because each time one of my plants dies, or seems close to dying, or simply starts to look interested in beginning to die, I take it to her.

Then, somehow, it miraculously gets better.

Since I am not there and she is, I have to assume this has something to do with her.

Over the last three years, keeping a box turtle and a red footed tortoise has encouraged (forced) me to confront my brown thumb more directly. The reason for this is simple: both shells live outside, and as a good turtle and tortoise mama, I know I need to keep their habitats filled up with safe and (ideally) edible greenery.

However, since my baby tort, Malti, thinks the only proper way to welcome a new plant is to eat it, while my box turtle, Bruce, prefers to climb each new plant and perch in it like a bird, I can’t say it is always fully my fault when their greenery fails to thrive.

But I have no such ready excuse for the two (count ’em) gardenia plants who have yet to produce a single actual gardenia blossom between them, the sickly basil, the lavender bush with no lavender on it, or the miserable potato plant that has yellow leaves instead of green. 

I do love plants. They just don’t seem to love me back. I care for them and in a way I can feel that they too care about me. Being with them from time to time gives me a peaceful feeling. You can learn so much from them, as plants seem to be really appreciative of the little things you give them. 

The other day I discovered a delightful little indie film called “Greenfingers.” Initially I thought it would teach me how to correct all my gardening errors. But then I realized it was an actual film based on a true story about prisoners in England who turned their lives around by learning how to garden.

These prisoners even went on to win big prizes in garden contests and they got to meet the Queen. Pretty cool, right?

Unfortunately, the only thing the film taught me is that some people are born to garden and some people are not.

But there was this one stellar moment in the film when the head gardener (prisoner) comes up for parole and he is asked if he wants to make any kind of statement to the parole board.

He tells them (and I paraphrase) that he used to just think he would be a prisoner forever and that he was just waiting for someone to come and take his life and get it over with already. But then, by participating in the prison gardening program, he realized he could give life, make life, nurture and grow something that needs caring for. He had developed a new identity now as a gardener.

He then went on to highly recommend gardening to any member of the parole board who was feeling stressed or was struggling with anger management issues.

Not surprisingly, he got his parole. And ultimately, the story has the kind of real life happy ending that I could really appreciate and enjoy, especially after all the hurricane Harvey-related messiness that has plagued my life this last month or so.

And the thing is, I agree with that prisoner. I truly do. There is something about tending to growing things that need care. It can change how a person sees themselves, and help the hurt places inside start to mend and heal.

When I was younger, I used to daydream about gardening, but in all honesty there was no way I was actually going to make time to do any.

Then I got slightly older, and instead of just buying houseplants and wondering why they kept dying, I started to actually try to pay attention to subtle nuances such as when and how much to water them and whether they liked lots of light or very little light.

Now, thanks to Bruce and Malti, I am a regular at the local gardening centers. I know there are several types of potting soils, and that “mulch” is not the same thing as “peat moss.”

I also know that many plants I would like to plant in the shells’ enclosures are toxic to reptiles, which limits my options and also my potential failure rate. And it makes me happy when I witness the rare bit of foliage that actually survives my pets’ tender ministrations and somehow manages to thrive all on its own inside their habitats.

But I still have absolutely no idea why. And I still know it has absolutely nothing to do with me.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you have a green thumb? Or a brown thumb? In either case, why do you think that is? Have you ever had an experience that showed you a healing side to caring for plants? How did that change your interest in gardening and/or your gardening abilities?

Why I Believe That Plants Are Healers

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2020). Why I Believe That Plants Are Healers. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2020
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