Rebellious Living: Developing Your Green Finger and Combating SADs with Gardening

flower garden path

It’s about mid-December and your seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is kicking in. Just a few weeks earlier Chicago was a beautiful place filled with greenery and opportunity. But now it’s winter, and you need a hobby. Gardening might be the thing for you! Being a rebellious human can happen in major ways like starting an intersectional feminist digital media organization or “small” ways like joining or starting a community garden in Chicago. The Rebellious Living series aims to inspire everyday people to rebel from the mainstream in small ways.

According to the Chicago Park District, “Gardening allows us to pursue healthy and active lifestyles, to be creative and to act as stewards of our parks.” Taking up gardening — especially shared ones — is a great way to test out your green thumb and make friends. Chicago storyteller, Jenn Sodini recently took up gardening and has been thoroughly enjoying the experience.

“This was my first experience gardening. I spent a million hours researching and so much money. Most of my plants have fruited, like, two things. But it’s still be worth it. It’s really theraputic to have a reason to get out into greenery and to see stuff grow. It’s fun to hang out with the other gardeners and gossip, snoop on other people’s gardens, complain together about how it was the weather and not lack of skills that stunted your growth. I’ve met a lot of people and know a lot more about the neighborhood. Also, I really have an appreciation for how hard it is to grow food. It turns out shoveling dirt is not TV shorthand for “back-breaking labor” – it is actually quite hard.”

Plants from Jenn’s garden

Chicago has hundreds of community gardens — about 70 of them are located within Chicago parks. There are three types of Chicago community gardens: ornamental (plants intended for use as food), edible, and combinations. To join one of these gardens, which receive support from the Chicago Park District, you’ll need to contact the community garden manager.

Garden managers are the primary contact person between the park district and the public. Although these garden groups receive some support, group members are responsible for garden maintenance and expenses. Chicago Park District and Chicago Community Gardeners Association (CCGA) has a list of local community gardens and information on how to join or get started.

The CCGA’s site also includes a list of community garden work days. Groups and individuals can discover opportunities to make an immediate impact in Chicago neighborhoods. “Your efforts will provide families with a safe and beautiful oasis, inspire neighbors to take ownership of this beautiful garden space and become active participants in its future upkeep.” (CCGA)

Jenn’s three tips for those thinking about joining a community garden:

  1. Just go for it. I thought I’d be in garden with a bunch of pros, but it turned out to be a great mix of new and experienced gardeners. Things will go wrong but it will be OK.
  2. Get a buddy to split duties. I wanted to build a super-garden, while my friend was like “let’s just throw some seeds in the dirt,” so it was a good balance. Also, when something dies you can mentally split the blame.
  3. For concrete gardening tips, the Farmer’s Almanac website is a good resource. I also got a few gardening eBooks from the Chicago Public Library.

Chicago community garden. Credit: Jenn Sodini

If you like the idea of gardening but not into sharing (you should share more, BTW), linking up with local plant lovers can inspire you to into hydroponics and in-home gardening. The internet offers a plethora of information on how to produce fresh veggies and beautiful flowers in your home year round. You can also contact CCGA to find gardening events and demonstrations.

Another local gardener, Miya Debaker says, “For me, keeping plants is like keeping memories alive. They grow and change and follow larger cycles. They’re important stories I can leave in a place or bring with me. For me that’s super special.”

Still not convinced to get some soil under your nails but want to enjoy beautiful plants? Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory is free (donations accepted) and open year round. As an island gyal stuck in the Windy City, their palm house and desert house are my favorite winter getaway. The Garfield Park Conservatory also offers fun activities like yoga, composting and bee demos.

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Onicia Muller is a Caribbean writer and comedian currently freezing her buns off in Chicago. A former crime reporter and children’s columnist, she's found her happy place writing about women in entertainment. If you're into oversharing, read her weekly humor column Just Being Funny in The Daily Herald’s Weekender.