Garden by Constitution: Planting for Your Family

In my humble opinion, everyone should have a garden.The deep healing and balancing that comes with a solid connection to nature is undeniable. We know, for instance, that patients at hospitals that have gardens and provide natural lighting and even indoor garden space recover more quickly than those who are sequestered from the natural world. Psychologists working with folks who are recovering from deeply traumatic experiences, including PTSD, often include some kind of connection to nature in their recovery programs, such as a daily walk in nature, work in the garden or work with a service animal. In fact, there have been a battery of studies done in recent years not only in the USA but worldwide on the effects of nature and more specifically gardening on health and wellbeing. The results, in short, show us clearly that gardening and nature are essential to a long and healthy life.

The science may be compelling, but getting into the garden isn’t always as easy as all that. Have you ever had the experience of reading a great article that makes gardening sound easy, maybe even given the ideas a try, but in the end what sounded so simple and practical turned out to be a whole lotta work? I can tell you I sure have.

The number of plants and seedlings that have failed to thrive in my care is somewhat staggering, actually. I’ve tried all kinds of gardening techniques, from container gardening to the old fashioned plots like my parents and grandparents grew. I cannot tell you how very frustrating that was. I’d near given up on gardening on any scale…then I read a book on Ayurvedic health Yoga Will loaned me, and it clicked.

Gardens, like diet and exercise, are all highly individual. They need to be. What’s worked so well for my friend, Master Gardener Sue Sierralupe, for instance, seems to fail miserably for me even though her techniques are proven and so many of them are super easy. Why? Because she gardens in a way that matches her personality, physicality, and energy. She’s naturally matched her garden to her constitution, and it works brilliantly!

What is a Constitution?

Ayurveda is, in part, a method of matching all aspects of life to a pattern set based on the five elements of Air, Space, Water, Fire, and Earth. Those elements are combined to create the Ayurvedic doshas, Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha, that practitioners use to describe the dominant constitution or patterns for each individual. Ayurveda is a huge system of pattern-matching that helps practitioners recognize the foods, exercises, environments that offer the best and worst potential for health throughout life.

If you go to an Ayurvedic practitioner, he or she will spend a lot of time asking you some extensive questions about your diet and lifestyle, including how you react to certain types of foods, exercises, and environmental factors. From your answers, he or she will determine the ratio at which each dosha contributes to the whole you, from your physical body to your personality and spirit. The process can take several hours to more than a week to complete, and may be quite expensive depending on the practitioner you see.

Find Your Dominant Constitution Type

The good news is, you don’t necessarily need an extensive analysis to figure out your most dominant dosha, and for gardening or connecting with nature you don’t need an in-depth knowledge of how your constitution works. In fact, you probably already know yourself well enough to recognize which constitutional type best fits your personality and capacities!

You can use these super simplified descriptions to determine which constitutional type best fits your personality. It’s a very rough guide; even at its simplest, Ayurveda offers more depth (including several other types that are actually mixes of each of these). For the purpose of determining which gardening style might best fit you, this should point you in roughly the right direction.

Vatta: Air and Space

Vatta is a mixture of air and space (aka ether or spirit). Folks with strong Vatta in their constitution tend toward cold and dry. This means they’re more likely to love summer’s heat and feel cold all winter no matter how many layers they wear. They are more likely to have dry skin or other drying types of conditions, may go grey or get wrinkles early, and are likely to feel better in warm weather that’s slightly more damp than dry, although damp cold conditions can be quite aggravating. Vatta type people are often flighty; their minds are active and racing, especially when stressed, and they find being still frustrating or aggravating. They most often need quieting exercises, like meditation and yoga, but often gravitate toward lots of busy activity, like running.

Pitta: Fire and Water

Pitta is a mixture of fire and water. Folks with strong Pitta in their constitution tend toward hot and damp. They’re the folks you see walking around in short sleeves and skirts or shorts mid-winter when everyone else is bundled up. They often wither in the heat of summer, becoming quite irritable and ornery. Hot damp weather is the worst for them, cool, whether it’s dry or damp, is the best. Pitta type people are great at getting projects started, but they often lose interest once the momentum’s going. They’re more likely to forget to do their maintenance, although they may well come in at the end and provide the drive needed to bring the project to completion. Pitta people tend toward more aggressive or competitive sports, like martial arts and team sports. They’re also often described as driven – they will push forward by any force necessary to achieve their goals.

Kapha: Earth and Water

Kapha is a mixture of earth and water. Folks with strong Kapha in their constitution tend toward cold and damp, like Vatta types, but they’re often a whole lot more slow moving. These are the folks who endure; they’re stable and seem like they can continue working for hours on end without stopping and with no apparent adverse effects. They’re also quite slow to act, being far more likely to avoid exercise and activity unless pushed. They’re often quite laid back and prone to letting their environment get messy purely because they never quite put anything away. They often prefer the heat of summer to the cold of winter, but damp heat can be a bit of a problem. They rarely get sick, but when they do it’s often respiratory in nature, like colds or seasonal allergies. Kapha people tend to gain weight easily, including building muscle mass, but have a hard time burning the fat off again. In short, they build structures quite well, but destroying them is a whole different story.

Gardening for Your Constitution

When we apply the idea of constitutional types to gardening, the most important aspect we want to think about is how each is motivated and what strategies one can use to create balance and make gardening easy.

If, for instance, you tend toward a more Vatta type of personality, you may find that a garden that has a lot of clearly defined planting spaces with plenty of room for annuals brings more balance to your life and makes gardening easy. The grounded nature of those defined spaces coupled with the regular attention annuals need helps Vatta people to focus and tune in.

By contrast, if you’re a Kapha type of person you may want to let your garden beds have a lot of fluidity, creating them with rounded or organic edges or using berms to give them a lighter, less boxy shape to create a light feeling that makes getting into the garden compelling. That, along with many conveniently located tool sheds can make gardening easy and enjoyable enough to help Kapha people to overcome their more sedentary nature to get out into the garden regularly.

Here are a few ideas for each constitution type you might consider when you’re planning your garden.

Vatta Garden Considerations

Vatta people do well with a lot of practical beds. They need more grounding due to the strong influence of air and space (aka ether or spirit) in their lives, and the practicality of having plenty of food and medicine in their own garden helps to balance their airy nature. They’ll also do well with a balance of perennials and annuals – the annuals often require more daily maintenance than do the perennials. Depending on the nature of their lifestyle, these folks can have a yard that’s mainly perennial with just a few annuals to provide some daily connection with nature. The number of annuals depends highly on how much time they can and will want to dig in the dirt.

Pitta Garden Considerations

Pitta people do better with a lot of perennials and system-style gardens due to the influence of fire and water in their lives. They tend to jump into projects, but can languish in the middle. They’ll often struggle with the daily maintenance sorts of tasks like watering and weeding, but will relish in the planting and harvest. They’ll also enjoy a space that’s highly organized – so beds that are artful in their design are a must. If they choose to grow plants that are more exotic or produce that’s often expensive at stores, they’ll likely want to label them like you might see at public gardens – this underscores the importance of each plant and helps Pitta types remember which is which by the end of the season when they may not have spent much time tending their plantings.

Kapha Garden Considerations

Kapha people do well with a lot of beauty and lightness in their gardens due to the influence of earth and water in their lives. Beds can be fluid in shape, rounded and organic rather than square or boxy. Berms can provide the sculpted feeling if the shape of the beds must be more square due to the nature of the garden space or resources. They’re also helped by having tools and systems that require the least maintenance – Kapha types often gravitate toward mess, which can lead to damaged tools and other problems. It’s wise to located one or more tool sheds very close to the workspaces. They’ll do fine with a larger number of annuals or plants that need careful tending, but can be quite successful with perennial-based gardens that have other features they can tend regularly, like bird feeders and ponds or water features.

Gardening, whether it’s a simple aeroponic system in your living room or a half-an-acre farmstead right out back, is one of the best ways I know to connect with nature and find deep and lasting wellbeing. No matter your situation or capacity, we all have the potential to be successful. The key is to tailor your gardening to your strengths and to avoid that which taps into your weaknesses.


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