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.