Though you wouldn’t know it right now, it’s spring. (Seriously, April – what’s with yesterday’s blizzard and this morning’s -20 C wake-up? Are you trying to be an asshole, or does it come naturally?) This time of the year, my thoughts turn to gardening. You guys, I love gardening. It wasn’t always this way. I used to be the kind of person who couldn’t keep a weed alive. I once killed an air plant. Seriously. Google “air plant”, and try to count how many times the word “easy” appears in the search results.
One of the great discoveries of your thirties is this: though you are finally, firmly an adult, you’re far from a done deal. You can – and should – continue to learn new things and dive into new passions. Really, what pushed me into gardening was moving into our current home. It came with beautifully established gardens on all sides, planted and tended by someone who really knew their stuff. From the departure of rotten spring snow til the falling of fresh stuff, lovely bits of life pop up in various spots. Between April and October, there’s always a flower to enjoy somewhere. There are lots of bushes, and tall trees, too. We bought the house in March, and had no idea what living surprises awaited us until we moved the following June.
Of course, it’s not all roses. (See what I did there?) The lovely bushes and trees cost us a fortune in trimming and removal last year, after we realized that one day we might just wake up to find ourselves smothered, jungle-style, if we didn’t fight back. We have wild roses along our back fence that send out runners aplenty, which all have to be ripped out by hand. We have blackberries. That’s nice when we’re nibbling on them. It’s considerably less nice when we’re trying to keep the prickly vines from eating our entire yard. We have a maple tree. Every year, I uproot dozens of baby maples. Those cute little seedlings grow up, you see, and we have room for one – not 78. There’s plenty of mowing for the mister to do. And, while I don’t mind the odd weed (in fact, I adore some weeds, like dandelions), or the lived-in look, I have a deep – possibly obsessive – need for tidiness. The sight of things growing between interlocking bricks makes me crazy, and I suspect that the previous owner of our house had an interlocking brick fetish (if there is such a thing – someone look it up, please). My back is already weeping at the thought of the stooping ahead.
But the learning, the sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction – the joy – it gives me is worth everything it costs. Gardening has taught me so many important things that can be applied to life.
The first thing you see often isn’t the most important thing, and it’s never an island unto itself. From the street, you see a tree. What you don’t see is the rich soil supporting it, insects tunneling in and out of it, enriching it. The strong root system pumping water and nutrients. The wind challenging, shaping and strengthening the trunk. You see a flower. What you don’t see are the smaller plants bracing it. The larger plants sheltering it. The butterflies, bees and wasps pollinating it. The sun and rain feeding it. We all have a part to play.
Things aren’t always what they look like at first. Along the back wall of our house, there is a slow-growing plant with a few dead ends. Its leaves are rather plain. It’s got vicious thorns. For three summers, it hooked my clothes and drew blood, and I chopped it down. Yet it kept coming back – I could not get rid of it. I hated that thing. One summer, I was away alot, and didn’t have time to do my usual hack job. I returned to find it sporting 18 beautiful red roses. With plants, colour and beauty can come from the dullest of corners. Loveliness can lie dormant for long years. So it is with people, if we give them a chance.
Don’t wait until an opportunity presents itself – enjoy what you have now. The roses on that bush last a week at most. Some flowers are in their glory for far less time than that. You have to admire them, take pictures of them, pick them to grace your table when they show up – not when your life slows down, or plans have been cancelled, and you have an extra moment. When it comes to flowers, stop and make a moment. They might not be there tomorrow. Maybe you won’t, either.
Be careful what you encourage, whether actively or passively. In a garden, the fastest, most competitive growers are usually the ones you don’t want. Ignore them for an inch, and they’ll take a mile. Get lazy for a week, and they’ll start strangling all the good plants around them. Leave them for a month, and they’ll be all that’s left by the time you come back. The easiest thoughts are negative. The easiest courses of action are lazy. Apathy and evil will flow into a void, take root and boil over. For good things to flourish, you have to pursue them, encourage them and defend them tirelessly.
Even the best-laid plants (and plans) can go awry. You select a plant because something about it calls to you. You gently transport it home, choose the best spot for it, carefully plant it and water it in. You picture excitedly how gorgeous it will be when it begins to flourish. You might even bore your husband and kids and friends with it (if you’re me). Then, a late frost shrivels and blackens it. Or a violent downpour washes it right out of the ground. Or a particularly cruel sun withers and yellows it. Or an animal tears it up. Heartbreaking, but there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. You knew you were risking all of those things when you put that sprout in the ground. It feels even more personal and savage if it’s a plant you grew from seed. Houses burn down. Whole towns flood out and float away. Businesses go under. Children die. It doesn’t matter how much of your heart you put into them – some cruel force can just sweep them away anytime. Control is an illusion, foolish at best and dangerous at worst. But if the alternative is not to bother … Well, I’ll take the risk, for a chance to live my life in full, rich colour.
Just be. Breathe in, breathe out. Sometimes, the true contentment is found in the journey – in the work. Pick slowly through a tangle of tender green, the smell of rich earth rising, with the sun soaking into your back and your feet firmly planted. Inch by inch, pay close attention to detail. Listen to your heartbeat. Entertain your thoughts. Lose the clock. Lose your expectations. Find yourself.