I Believe Gardening Is Life
This thought first occurred to me when my dad passed away and I prepared to speak on behalf of my brothers, sisters and mom at his funeral service. This revelation was a result of the last conversation I had with my dad the evening he collapsed. We had discussed his day and I reveled in the fact I was shelling lima beans as we spoke. For anyone who grew up during the days of family labor camps which involved a healthy diet of weeding and tending the family garden, the idea I was genuinely enjoying shelling lima beans has to come as a surprise, or at the least, a sign of apparent mental instability. Gardening in my family when I grew up was not a means of obtaining some fresh vegetables for an occasional meal; no we gardened for more than mere sustenance, we gardened for security, education, punishment, and eventually enjoyment. I think my dad’s need to have a full acre of garden was more the result of growing up in the depression than a function of having six children to feed and keep occupied before the days of internet, cell phones and ten zillion tv channels. Gardening was a family affair involving group planting, weeding, shelling, cooking, and canning or freezing. I can remember many a Saturday spent picking beans, peas, or sweet corn and all of us sitting around the picnic table as we shelled, snapped or shucked. All the time waiting for dad to step away so mom could hide some of the harvest so she could give it away to any number of people she kept supplied. It wasn’t that dad wouldn’t give any away, it was just his idea of how much we needed for our needs ran contrary to our thoughts as to how much time and effort we kids felt should be expended doing something useful.
So to me gardening is life because in life we plant seeds so we can harvest. My seeds may be thoughts or ideas which become plans and/or actions. Seeds may be a nod to a stranger who later becomes a partner, friend, companion, customer, mentor, or a resource. A seed can be a kind gesture that makes someone’s day. It can also be an offhanded or off colored remark that matures into a harvest of another kind.
Gardening is life because I know I have to nurture my growing seeds or plants as they mature. In the garden my plants need fertilizer and water to help them grow and flourish. This is no different than the nourishment I provide to the “plants” I am growing in life. I know I need to nourish the relationships I have with my wife, children, friends, and the people I work with. In gardening I also need to control pests. I know I have to protect my garden from insects which like bad thoughts will eat away at me. My garden needs to be protected from and treated for diseases just like I do. And I know if I hang out around too many weeds, like my chosen plants I will be choked out and won’t become what I was meant to or should be.
In my garden I have many favorites; varieties, suppliers, tools, and locations. I have repetition in that many plants I grow year after year after year. Some of them I really don’t know why. But I also have new things in my garden, be it a plant, tool, fertilizer, spray or tactic. And I am always looking for an easier way to weed or to do the hard work. In my garden some years are better than others, some plants just don’t do well no matter how much time or attention I give them. Some plants do well despite a lot of neglect. Some plants require more attention, a more fertile soil, a more specialized approach. There are some plants I am just not meant to grow. In the garden I have learned to accept the fact that some things are just out of my control.
In my garden I would much rather plant and harvest than I would weed and tend. I have a really nice garden tiller that does a great job of preparing the soil and taking out the weeds in the rows and open spaces. I can mulch my flower and vegetable gardens to help keep down the weeds, but if I want to have a good garden I have to be diligent, attentive, and most of all I have to get my hands dirty. In gardening as in life manure improves the harvest.
Some of my flowers I have to thin out periodically or they become too large a part of my garden. On the other hand, I believe gardening is life because sometimes I plant too much of something and it becomes too big a part of my garden. Some things I just have to make room for, not necessarily because I like them or feel I need them, but because they just need to be there. My garden isn’t just about me. At times my garden can be over or under appreciated, over or under criticized, unworthy of the praise it receives, or just plain ignored, but it is always important.
I believe gardening is life because it has seasons. As I have become firmly entrenched in the fall of my life, it has been a relief to learn I can grow better broccoli in the fall than I can in the spring. It occurs to me my enjoyment of spring and fall is reflective of my appreciation and enjoyment of planting and harvesting. Sometimes summer is just tough. I’m apprehensive about winter, but you know in Maryland they grow spinach all winter long.
I hope I have instilled these life lessons in my daughters. I once pointed out to one of my daughters that she may be leaving the nest with only a minimal idea of how to keep her room clean, but she does know how to plant, weed, pick and snap green beans.
I worry about a society that knows or cares little about the rewards and lessons of gardening, but more importantly I believe in spring and the opportunities it brings us. I believe gardening is life and I believe it is time I spend some time with my seed catalogs.