Gardening supplies along with hair dye and cooking equipment have flown off the shelves and e-commerce sites in pandemic popularity. Dr. Nathan Segall, who is overseeing a COVID-19 vaccine trial, has seen the benefits as a lifelong gardener.
“Gardening is a pastime as much as a hobby. It engages the senses as well as the intellect and connects us to the environment in a way that is hardly duplicated in any other way.”
Often considered a top U.S. hobby, gardening is gaining popularity during the pandemic. According to national health sources it provides psychological benefits for body and mind. And with practice, patience and experimentation, gardeners are at home digging in the dirt with thoughts of soil, seasons, insects, water systems and light sources.
Segall’s interest in “the outside” comes from growing up in Montgomery, Ala., in a plant-filled neighborhood on a bicycle picking plums and blackberries. He reminisced that gardening seemed more common “‘way back when’ before air conditioning gave us an excuse to go inside homes for internal environment which made us less apt to appreciate our immediate [outdoor] surroundings.”
Similarly, I shared with my own father, Harry Caller, an interest in gardening. Together we built and painted the woven white trellis slats for crimson roses. A double-edged family joke was that he mysteriously acquired cow manure, which “stunk to high heaven” to produce cantaloupe sized tomatoes in all varieties: pink Duchess, acid free yellow, to traditional Big Boys. The aroma of those leaves and stems lives on.
In his current home, Segall has designed and developed many gardens on about 3,350 square feet, which he describes as “a large postage stamp and perfect size for an individual in which to potter.”
His garden has sun in the front and shade in the back with paths connecting to a water feature. “It would be described as eclectic with many themes, as I consider myself an impulsive gardener.”
His water feature has swans holding up the pan of water with a little boy grabbing the fish as water spouts from its mouth. Two goldfish and occasional bullfrogs inhabit the pond.
Segall’s small garden has several collections: hydrangeas, Japanese maples and mini and maxi hostas, which have provided interest and joy over the years. In addition, he has several plants from his mother’s garden in Montgomery, which serve as a memory of her passion for gardening.
“My mother liked roses and pecan trees. We had gardenias blooming outside our windows in the summer, which were almost intoxicating.”
Segall combined his love of gardening with that of (pre-COVID) traveling. After his trip to Japan, he was inspired to design a small Zen garden amid a seat that allows him space for contemplation. Other visits: Winterthur in Delaware, a du Pont family garden; Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia; Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park, “a must,” along with its botanical gardens, Zealandia in Wellington, New Zealand, an evolving wildlife ecosanctuary. “Gardens in Atlanta that I enjoy are the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Smith-Gilbert Gardens. When my wife and I travel, gardens are always a treat and provide interest of the environs that you cannot get otherwise.”
Segall references “how to” gardening books that help with seasonality and chores, and magazines provide ideas and suggest plants for different spaces. “Robin Lane Fox’s column in ‘The Financial Times’ is a treat and is always fun to read.”
Dr. Segall practiced internal medicine, allergy and immunology locally for decades. Currently as he is working on COVID vaccine trials, he states, “It has been an incredible ride and one that I treasure, but waiting to get off of.”
Segall’s tips for starting and maintaining a garden:
■ Diversity of plant material aides in preventing disease.
■ Select plants that you like.
■ Spend time in your garden almost on a daily basis. It not only gives pleasure and familiarity, but a sense of how things change in each season and with the time of day.
■ Use as little insecticides as possible
■ Plant hybrid tea roses for beauty and fragrance.
■ Put bird feeders and hummingbird feeders in a space that you can visualize from your home.