Life in the Garden

“Gardening is how I relax. It’s another form of creating and playing with colors.” –Oscar de la Renta

I’m not a good gardener despite reading and trial and many errors. But I’ve always liked messing around in the dirt, being witness to one of the most remarkable miracles that still exist (thankfully): seeds sprouting into plants which we can then nurture to harvest. I marvel at this process with the reverence of a child, and I celebrate many therapeutic and creative aspects of gardening.

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece” ― Claude Monet

The Flowering of the Heart
Tiny German Green Tomatoes, Zucchini, Chard, and beans begin their lives on my dining room table.

I believe that our gardens–small, personal gardens–grow directly from our souls and are creative expressions, much like paintings–except we get to eat a lot of our gardens, and one can’t eat paintings (at least not oil paintings). I seem to carry an instinctive sense about my “place” within the seasons, and about when it’s time to start seeds indoors, when I should till the garden, when I ought to water, etc.. I think gardening enables our cellular memories from long, long ago when humans depended upon plants for sustenance, and when we garden, we sink our hands into dirt that is both strangely familiar and ancient.

“Plant so your own heart will grow…”–Hafiz

Perhaps the instinct to plant and reap came intuitively to me as the Persian poet Hafiz once wrote, “Plant so your own heart will grow…” Gardening is a private contemplation that allows me to be in touch with instincts and emotions beyond words. I grow quieter and more content as my garden comes to life. The shape and texture, the taste and smells of the garden are my responses to an interior process that is part desire, part artistic creation, and part internal conversation.

The Flowering of the Heart
The winter-weary garden after I removed the plastic coverings for the first time.

I love the excitement of thinking in the winter about what I might want to try growing in the spring. I love picking out seeds and sprouting them on the dining room table, in the pale winter sunlight in March. I draw all sorts of little designs for what plants will go where and I can already imagine those sprouts as their mature, bountiful selves.

And I love the ritual of returning to my garden plot for the first time since winter to see what, if anything, has survived and spending time close to the soil, pulling up weeds, pruning back things that have over-wintered like celery, beets and kale. I celebrate each plant that has survived the freezes, the blizzard and the lack of light over the cold months. I look carefully for signs of new life just below the topsoil and on my fig tree and grape vine. I tidy up, add compost to the dirt, turning it over, imagining how happy cold-stunned worms will be to get this new, tasty meal, as robins dare to come close, pecking for those same worms in the turned-over dirt.

The Flowering of the Heart
The surviving winter garden, on the terrace above where a fellow gardener is tilling my 2016 garden.

Of course there’s plenty of comedy in my gardening, too–because I’m not a good gardener. Like my absolute belief that I, a doughy, unfit woman, could rent a rototiller, lift it into my car and easily use it to till the garden. The guys at the tool rental place just laughed and laughed at me. (So I hired someone to do it for me.) Or like my diligent, on-my-knees work to get rid of an “invasive” plant, a weed, I thought. Then it was pointed out (in a very nice way, by a concerned gardener) that I had been pulling up asparagus.  Or my “environmentally conscious” plan last year to grow mammoth sunflowers and leave the heads for birds, only to find much of my garden this year COVERED in gigantic mammoth sunflowers that are blocking out all the light for the corn and other things.  Or thinking that tons of lettuce was coming up where I had not thought I’d planted lettuce, only to discover that I had misplaced a whole package of radish seeds that were growing like a huge Chia-Pet. (For that error, I pretended it was a deliberate act. I couldn’t bear to tear out damning the signs of my stupidity–the radish seedlings were so green!)

As the plants have grown, and I’ve talked with and learned useful tips from gardeners around me, I’ve begun to recognize the individual expressions each garden exhibits. The choice of plants, the layout of each individual plot, how free or guarded each gardener is with their harvest, their knowledge, all of this arises from the intuitive, creative instincts of the gardeners.

I would encourage you to pay attention to that flutter within when you think of gardening, and to respond by planting something wherever you are. If you have one pot of dirt, you can repeat the ancient miracle of [seed + dirt + water = a plant] for yourself and reap the happiness that grows repeatedly from the dirt.

“It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in ’em… When I ponder on them seeds I don’t find it nowise hard to believe that we’ve got souls that’ll live in other worlds. You couldn’t hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone colour and scent, if you hadn’t seen the miracle, could you?” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

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