Barefoot in the Garden

Ethne Clarke asked what kind of boots I wear for gardening. Boots? What boots? My favorite thing of all is gardening in bare feet, the soles of my calloused feet directly connects my soul to the warm, wet, highly textured earth…it’s like a whole new 7th sense of summer experienced through my toes, like prehensile antennae, and a profound sensual pleasure.

It all started when I was a kid growing up on the 20th-century America’s first organic farm. When summer came my mom would let us out in the morning and then beep the car horn at night when it was time to come in for dinner. Did I wear shoes? No way. I didn’t even wear a shirt till I was 8 or 9. I could measure the progression of summer by how much easier it got to run over the sun-baked pavement macadam or gravel drive. The first week was always hard, but by the end of summer nothing could stop me!

When I studied Permaculture with Bill Mollison many years ago, I was fascinated by his feet. He rarely wore shoes (or if he had to, a pair of cheap flip flops) and as a result, the calluses on the bottom of his feet looked to be about 2 inches thick. Now THAT was something to be proud of!

Unfortunately, with my job and such, I can’t get close to wearing that sort of casual footwear, but at home I love to see my feet get so dirty that even scrubbing doesn’t get the dirt off. And here is why: it grounds me. Bare feet connect me to the earth in a way that I can feel in my whole body. The energy of the whole planet flows through my body like a radio current that harmonizes with my soul. But it’s practical too. Through my feet I can tell if the soil is good or not, and how much water it needs. Through my feet I can tell if the grass is healthy or sick…I can even tell if it’s organic or not!!!! Even the stones have messages – about temperature or time of day. I can tell how alive things are by how they feel beneath my feet.

Some people walk on fire to test their faith and their bodies. I look at gardening barefoot in the same way. It’s amazing what we can do when we overcome our fear, when we walk carefully, watching each step and feeling the universe through our soles. At first our feet might be too sensitive. But it’s like exercise – we build our strength and resilience over time and with use. Yes, there are some risks (the occasional step on a bee, a rose thorn, or a slug) but those risks remind us that nature has a voice, too. We can’t just run roughshod over her without consequences. Barefoot gardening builds trust, in nature, in our selves and in our gardens.

But it feels good, too.


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8 Responses to Barefoot in the Garden

  1. Laura B. October 7, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    AHHH! I too love to be barefoot, & garden, and as a child had the luxury to do so as well. My mother would send me out w/ shoes, but I’d hide my shoes under a bush or in a downspout. The secretly squeeze my diry feet back into them before I went home. Then she’d wonder why my feet were so stained.
    I’d climb trees, wade the local “crik” (creek), run wildly through fields of white clover, risking a bee sting. Back then, these fields were buzzing alive w/ honeybees.
    My feet widened as a result, & remain tough to this day. (& make it challenging to find shoes that fit!)
    However, as a sandal & flip flop wearer, I get self conscious of my stained feet, which often times are impossible to clean thoroughly. Our society has higher expectations of grooming, particularly on older women. *sigh….

  2. Bonnie October 7, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    Envious! I loved going barefoot every chance I got and still do.

    Growing up, my Mom expected me to be very ladylike and so no time in the garden. I came to love gardening when a high stress job pushed me into finding a really relaxing activity.

    Now I need special shoes to walk, but enjoy remembering some barefootin’ times.

    Garden on…..

  3. Dirty Soles October 9, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    I am glad to hear about a woman who like’s to get the bottoms of her feet dirty I am barefoot all the time and would love to meet and compare soles…

  4. Dirty Soles October 9, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    Correction on the URL…

  5. michele October 9, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    My niece especially loves to walk around barefoot in the yard or anywhere she can.

  6. Greg November 16, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    I go without shoes every chance I can. The last two years that I mowed the grass I did it barefoot and I had the green feet to prove it! So, I would get along great with a dirty-foot woman. Life is sooooo much better in bare feet inside and outside.

  7. saralyn January 14, 2014 at 11:19 pm #

    at first i wouldnt have dreamed of gardening barefoot for fear of stepping on something sharp and hurting my foot or something squishy and getting grossed out but i had a friend who i found out did it and said it was perfectly safe especially if you know the ground has been carefully maintained.i was hesitant but she told me of the joy it brought her to be connected to the earth and saved wear and tear on i do it all the time and love getting my feet dirty.its so relaxing most times i stretch out in our lounge chair and fall asleep

  8. saralyn May 30, 2015 at 1:24 am #

    i am like that last writer i thought working in the garden would be unsafe like stepping on a sharp rock or yucky like stepping on a snail. but after went to visit a freind and saw her gardening happily barefoot and encouraged me to do the same love took a while or my feet to build up tolerance but as soon as warm weather hits the shoes come off and wtihin two weeks ithe soles of my feet are tough enough to withstand anything.i love feeling the dirt under my toes and as she said its so relaxing after an hour or so i lay down in my lounge chair and fall immediatly to sleep.

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