11 Reasons Why Gardening Is the Perfect Metaphor for Life


Last week we had two perfect days of spring weather, sunny and in the high 70s. It was just what we all needed to kick-start our spring selves and get us back out in the garden. Now, those nice days were work days, so I vowed to go out over the weekend, which turned out to be more “normal” spring days—50s and sunny—but that’s just what I did, head back out into the garden.

Dear Readers, it doesn’t matter how much I’ve run or done yoga over the winter, or how well we “put the garden to bed,” that first day out in the garden is ouch on many levels. But for me, as much as gardening is a physical job, it’s also one where I happen to talk to myself a lot, and the talk I was giving myself was about the fact that gardening seems to me to be the perfect metaphor for all of life.

And here is how that little conversation in my head went:

1. You have to be willing to do the sh*t jobs. Literally. The first thing I did was clean up the dog crap from my vegetable beds. You would think I’d be able to train her not to do that, smart dog that she is. But no. Then I was reminded about my own life. I started out as more or less a secretary. Sometimes it seems like kids today don’t want to do the sh*t jobs. But someone has to do it, and it’s a good reminder that no matter how high up you get in a job, there are still sh*t jobs to be done everywhere.

2. You have to have a vision and Big Dreams. If you don’t have a vision and Big Dreams you might get stuck just doing those menial jobs. But no, I always have a scheme up my sleeve, some Big Project. I won’t bore you with my garden list for this year, but suffice it to say my current yard is the result of a lot of Big Dreaming and a lot of hard work. “Shift work,” as Kenny Chesney and George Strait would say. But in life it’s the same: It’s easy to get stuck if you don’t have a vision as to where you want to go and how you want to get there. Working toward your dreams makes all the hard work worth it.

3. You have to be willing to plant the seeds and plant the plants. A lot of people may not garden, but if you do, you know that it’s up to you to plant the seeds and plant the plants. You have to go out and buy them (or start them yourself), dig a hole, and stick them in, and do all sorts of bending, lifting, and squatting. It’s physical, but you are also inviting into your yard a whole bunch of new things, and they bring things with them. Surprises of all sorts. But it’s like life in that if you don’t do that work—bringing new things into your life, being open to surprises, and trying new types of things—nothing will grow. Not even you.

4. You have to have patience. Yup. You can’t force a seed to grow faster than nature intended it to. You can’t make a tree bear fruit on schedule. Or get someone to do something when they are not quite ready. You’ve got to wait. I think about this sometimes when I send an email and don’t hear back right a way.

5. You have to learn how to deal with things that are totally out of your control. Weather, bugs, groundhogs, annoying people, family members—the usual list. Every garden, every job, every life has its things that are out of control. Sometimes patience works. Sometimes you need other skills, such as how to build a fire to cook your food if the power goes out.

6. You have to clean up after yourself. Well, technically, you don’t HAVE to, but if you don’t, then you bear the consequences—whether it’s diseases and depression or just that people don’t want you around anymore. To me, mess is stress and I love things to be tidy, even though it’s a monumental chore to clean up sometimes.

7. If you don’t do the work, you don’t eat. There are few things more amazing than buying a pack of seeds for $2 and then getting a whole crop of vegetables a few weeks or months later. The math might not always work out, but the reality is, you don’t plant, you don’t get to eat. And that’s a lot like life. Whether the work is actually preparing a meal or doing a job so that you can afford to buy food, the work must be done. (Unless you are a kid, but that doesn’t last.)

8. It’s hard to do it alone. You can do it alone, but it’s so much lovelier if you can do it with others, whether it’s your kids, partner, or friends. The reality is there will almost always be a time when you need someone’s help—a neighbor, a guy with a backhoe, someone to help you eat all your extra tomatoes—and it’s always better if you have people around to help out when you need it.

9. It’s good to be thankful. You can be an ungrateful gardener or person going through life, but…why? Nature and life are miracles, and being thankful adds so much richness and love to your life that why wouldn’t you do it? Plus, it’s free!

10. Sometimes you have to let things go. Maybe it’s a favorite tree that falls down in a storm, or another tree that grew to big for the space it was planted in. Weeds, branches, animals—gardening is a process of culling, selecting, making hard decisions, and saying good-bye sometimes. But lately, I’ve been really thinking about the concept of making room for new things and how sometimes that can’t happen unless you say good-bye to old things.

11. It’s all about love. Ultimately, the rewards for gardening and living can’t be measured in time, dollars, or possessions. It’s only about love. We do it for love. Love is the reward. Love is all that matters. Maybe love is all that lasts after we are gone, too. Well, love and trees. It’s good to plant trees. But the best reason to plant trees is for love—love of the earth, love of shade, love of oxygen, love of the beauty of branches that are so amazing and good places sometimes to sit and rest. I don’t have to garden. I could hire someone. But why do I do it? LOVE.

For some straight-forward, easy-to-follow organic gardening tips, check out my 4-season gardening ebook series.

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17 Responses to 11 Reasons Why Gardening Is the Perfect Metaphor for Life

  1. Bonnie April 24, 2013 at 6:22 am #

    One of the most thoughtful articles. Just so true!

    I also like to think that farming had another aspect to it. Our ancestors knew that they had to save something from the fall bounty to be able to have seed for the following year.

  2. Amy Freitag April 24, 2013 at 7:09 am #

    Love this.

  3. Sue April 24, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    See #1: I don’t particularly like seeing secretarial work equated with sh*t jobs, but … see #10 – sometimes you’ve just got to let some things go. Love your column, especially when it makes us think.

  4. nan April 24, 2013 at 9:19 am #

    beautiful, maria. thank you.

  5. Susan April 24, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    Great article and so true. Glad I’m not the only one who talks to myself (and plants, weeds, insects, birds, etc.) when gardening!

  6. Lisa April 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    This is a lovely and thoughtful essay.
    While I understand your slight umbrage, Sue, at the analogy in #1, I honestly think that Maria meant the “sh*t” in the term “sh*t job” to mean thankless and hard, which I suspect anyone who has worked as one or worked with one (and appreciated their unsung assistance) can attest is, too often, pretty darn accurate.

  7. maria (farm country kitchen) April 24, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    in one secretarial job I literally had to change a diaper…not my boss’s. But my boss forgot to bring diapers for her kid so I had to go out and get some. That was real sh*t work!

  8. Sue April 25, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Whooo! No argument with that being a sh*t job. You’ve got to have a sense of humor and absurdity to live through that.

  9. Donna in nDelaware April 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Love it! Gardening. I certainly don’t have to garden if I don’t want to, but I do it for the love of and, for love too! It takes you away, it brings you into the now, it requires patience, perseverance, and sometimes practicality. We should all try getting down and dirty. Sweet!

  10. betty May 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    This is a great article. I garden, not that I need the results, but I like to share the gardening rewards of plants, flower bouquets and the fresh veggies. People seem delighted to get the smallest thing
    And Sue, you may never have been a secretary, but I have, and yes, not only is it low on the pay scale, it is as Maria describes.

  11. Joanne May 2, 2013 at 1:59 am #

    I am an art teacher who previously worked as a recreation therapist for the same nonprofit agency. My job involves day activities with developmentally disabled persons with dementia. Not only do I take care of their physical needs(feeding and toileting) but also art, music, indoor GARDENING, exercise, and trying to enhance their daily life. I do get more from them than I give- but not when I have to deal with other people(‘red tape’ and disgruntled coworkers. Your story makes me realize I need to do more gardening for myself……I find it hard to kniw where to start….when I have little energy/time. Your stories are inspiring Maria. Thank you.

  12. Bonnie May 2, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Good for you, Joanne – Gardening is the most healthful and best stress relief I have ever found. It is even possible during times when you are disabled with surgery or etc. because potting plants and raised beds extend your ability.

  13. Renee May 2, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    Excellent just excellent. This is a keeper!

  14. .john May 3, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    gardening not only helps to bring some soulful meaning to life but it is life. Without people working the soil which mother earth has provided for us to survive I can not think of anything more important to provide us with this stable of life. And If some sh-t comes with it so be it .

  15. Hikma bilal December 23, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    Am more than happy to have come across this article. Now more than ever i love the course am studying in school which is agriculture. I would like to have my own garden too and i think y’all are lucky to have lands for your gardening. Just cant wait to have mine too!

  16. Joanne December 23, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    Hikma bilal, Indoor gardening can be enjoyable,too. I have come older seeds from a friend and use them at work-sometimes they grow, sometimes not. Look online for ideas about indoor gardening techniques.

  17. Joanne December 23, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    Hikma bilal, Indoor gardening can be enjoyable,too. I have come older seeds from a friend and use them at work-sometimes they grow, sometimes not. Look online for ideas about indoor gardening techniques.

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