Inch by Inch, Row by Row…

…Gonna to make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and a hoe. And a piece of fertile ground,” goes the garden song by John Denver. I have just picked a tomato, zucchini, lettuce and some carrots from our garden, and as I wander around the raised and thriving beds of vegetables and herbs my head spins with metaphors for growth, change and realization. Not only is the garden relatable to the mind, but the mind of the gardener also reflects the way we go about our lives and that we may learn ways to ‘bear fruit’ in more impactful and easier ways.

Anatomy of a Gardener 

My husband and I ‘walkabout’ the garden every day. He hovers around the periphery, pointing at vegetables when they need to be noted or picked. I am forever losing my coffee cup as I kneel down, pulling out the weeds, pinching excess growth on the tomatoes and tossing caterpillars off my leafy greens. He returns from the tour impeccable, I return sweaty with dirt under my finger nails. However, when we speak to friends about the cornucopia of fresh produce we’ve eaten over the year, these patches of ground are suddenly ‘our’ garden. Sigh.

I once read that ‘gardening is for perfectionists who really don’t want to succeed’ and I understand where she was coming from.  I walked past a garden recently that was overflowing with swiss chard and kale – so much so that they were giving bags of it away to anyone who wandered by. Asking for tips on how to similarly succeed, she replied that she used to be impeccable about plucking pests and pruning back, but once she started ignoring her garden (just a bit) it really started to bloom…

Leave well enough alone?

I think that there is a certain fulcrum of fiddling in gardening. If left untouched at all, weeds overrun once thriving plants, pests attack and kill young buds, and fruit and vegetables rot in isolation. On the other end, for the recreational gardener, this backyard crop could become a full-time job, making sure that veg and leaves are unmarred by imperfection, that the rows are faultlessly straight and spaced, and the list goes on. How does this align with our work, our hobbies, our responsibilities, the relationships with our loved ones and our own perspective and life in general?

I’m reminded again of the pareto principal – twenty percent of the work produces 80 percent of the results (and 80% of the work produces the other 20). Which reminds me to be a bit more strategic with my gardening time – reminding myself about which is the ‘biggest bang for my buck’. I’ve cut it down to soaping the leaves for pests, picking grass out of the beds when it gets too prolific, watering, guiding the vine plants, and pinching back the tomatoes as they grow taller than me – oh, and picking the outcomes when they are done. I think it might be time for me to do a similar short list for the house cleaning, my projects and different aspects of my life. Remember, there really isn’t a right answer – my husband is pleasantly surprised when anything comes out of the garden and has a shorter list than I do, garden-wise. Where is your energy best spent in the areas you have to do (you might want to question if ‘have’ is real or imagined) and want to do that give you the greatest returns, externally and internally.

Gardening is not a Game of Perfect

I have to remember that MY level of involvement isn’t the same as others, no better, no worse. This is something I’m learning slowly. Gardening is also a great teacher of limits and responsibility. Yes, you need to take on some of the important tasks to bring fruit to bear, but there are some other areas that you have NO control over. Last year I berated myself for not being a good enough gardener to overpower a drought… hmmm… Watering was limited to once a week and even with using grey water, only a few of my tomato plants bore fruit – I was upset by the sprawling vines of green and longed for the succulent red that reminds me of summer growing up. It wasn’t until I chatted with a friend who owned a fruit and vegetable stand that I realized there was a lack of tomatoes – even the professionals were challenged because of the weather.

So what does this mean? I needed to cut myself some slack on the weather front – it wasn’t something I could control so it didn’t reflect on who I was or what I could do successfully. Are there droughts in your life? I’m a firm believer (and sometimes practicer) of taking responsibility for stuff you can take responsibility for – I’ve found that doing this really gets me going on the right path. The trick (for me) is to not take responsibility for things that I have no control over – even though I’d like to…  I think there’s a ‘prayer’ about changing what we can, leaving alone what we can’t and knowing the difference… How might that change things for you? (BTW, the title of this thought is based on the great book “Golf is not a game of perfect” – well worth a read)

Reap what you Sow

The mind loves metaphors and stories, and the garden is full of them. When you plant bean seeds, will you be expecting to reap turnips? Sometimes we misperceive that our actions will head us in the right direction, even if they have not in the past (doing the exact same thing). Are there areas of your life that are falling short? Might our expectations be skewed so that we need to change what we’re doing to get different results?

There’s an indelicate phrase in gardening called ‘dead heading’. This happens when you pinch off wilted or dead flowers. The reason for doing it is so that the plant doesn’t put all its energy into a part of the plant that is past its prime, is on its way out, has already done what it needs to do. Are there areas of our life that need to be ‘dead headed’? Are there places where we need to end something that was beautiful in the past, but no longer serve us now? Are there things/action/people we need to trim, so that  we assure greater bounty for the future?

Plants need soil, sun and water to thrive. Where are your sources for nutrients and support – and are you getting them? A friend mentioned that she carries a list of ‘energy makers’ – things that really boost her up – when she needs to do a number of tasks that seem to draw energy from her, and she balances them out so she gets everything done without depleting her resources. Are there simple and life-enhancing things you can do to grow and flower? It may be easier with the help of a friend to brainstorm.

If we can learn from any experience, what can we learn from an okra? I’ve found that each plant grows differently, works in conjunction with or against other plants, and that they flourish in slightly different conditions. Just remember, if you’re like me who has ‘killed’ innocent plants in the past, there will be a plant match for you somewhere. My blooming prickly pear cactus is a great example…

In the quietude of the garden, we can learn the needs of these silent plants, and in the silence, sometimes we realize our own needs and strengths. Like attracts like, and so fostering growth and life can have an impact on our development as well. Happy sowing!

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