Sometimes You Just Need to Dig a Hole


Me and the cricket tree.

After a recent visit to my garden, I’ve come to the realization that I’m much more of a landscaper than a vegetable gardener.

Don’t worry, I’m not giving up on vegetables, but I understand now that I prefer to plant a bush, tree, or flower and let it grow on its own, for as long as it chooses, than to constantly fuss over quick-growing plants and then forget to eat them.

I came to this realization after digging a hole for a bush. Not just any hole. There are easy holes and there are hard holes. This was a hard hole. This was a hole where every thrust of the shovel met rock. Where even the sandy soil was hard-packed from long-ago construction (the worst kind!). Where the deeper I went, the harder it got. But here’s the thing: I liked it!

During the process a couple of people said to me, “Don’t you have someone who can help you with that?” And the truth is I do. But why should they have all the fun? There is something about digging a hole that’s both releasing and strengthening in the best way. It’s like a kettlebell workout, except in the end you also get a place to plant a bush or a tree.

At one point someone from the landscaping company I use came over and said he thinks I need to do things like dig holes because during the rest of my life my mind is so engaged and busy; that digging a hole is my mental break. There’s definitely truth to that. The point is, he could tell I wasn’t about to hand over the shovel.

Later that same day, at the Emmaus Farmers’ Market, I was talking to one of my favorite farmers and admiring his carrots. I explained that I have a problem growing carrots, that I prefer planting flowers and bushes—and digging the holes for them. He replied that he really doesn’t like landscaping because it takes so long to see results. He prefers the more immediate gratification of growing things for people to eat—maturity measured in days, not years. We agreed that he would keep growing vegetables and I would keep buying them from him.

Just a few weeks earlier, I’d taken an old friend to that same farmer’s market, and on the way we’d stopped to see my old house. He hadn’t been back in almost 30 years. I showed him the “cricket tree,” as my kids called it, a silver maple my sister planted in the middle of our yard probably about 27 years ago. I never liked where it had been planted because I knew how big and fast it would grow and that it would make growing any vegetables hard.

After she moved out and one daughter ran into it while learning to ride a bike (the tiny tree trunk bent way back and flung her off the bike like a slingshot! The bike left a turquoise paint scar on the tree that lasted for years! This was apparently all my fault, of course, and she still hasn’t quite forgiven me…), I decided to move it.

To do this, I had to dig a giant hole in the new spot, dig out the tree from the middle of the yard, and drag that 200-pound root ball a good distance to drop it into the new hole. I can still feel the strain of every muscle, the pleasure and joy of my stubborn success, the taste of downtown Emmaus dirt (probably tinged with lead) in my mouth.

Standing there with my old friend and that tree, I could see the years passing like a movie in my head. I saw the images of my two oldest daughters climbing the tree, playing in the tree, making forts under the tree. I could hear their laughter and happy screams echoing in my head as if it was yesterday—with the summery sound of crickets in the background. That little cricket tree is now so big I can’t get my arms around it.  I love that tree. I loved planting that tree. Because from one hole a whole lifetime grows.

Whether it’s in business or your personal life, doing the digging yourself can be tough, but it can also have lasting benefits and rewards. So you might as well enjoy the digging!


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5 Responses to Sometimes You Just Need to Dig a Hole

  1. Yen July 28, 2014 at 6:17 am #

    Well written.
    My tot has been dreaming of making a tree house but infortunately we don’t have a big enough back yard for that kind of thing so we’ve been doing just an imaginary tree house of pop up tent under an avocado tree.
    Childhood memories are wonderful especially if they had alot of nature in it! And we’re making lots of them everyday 🙂
    Thanks so sharing Maria

  2. Renee July 28, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Love this. I agree: sometimes, you just do.

    It’s the perfect alternative to far too many hours with fingers spent on a keyboard (the ‘typing’ kind, not the musical kind!)

  3. Beth Adair July 28, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    SO true! I’m not much of a gardener or landscaper, but once took out all my aggression on a section of the front yard after a bad trip to the dentist. In a matter of 2 hours I ripped up an area as big as a car, re-sodded it and after it was all over, I felt better. But, probably the funniest story about yardwork aggression was when I was married, my then-husband and I were watching the playoffs our NFL team, the Jaguars. When the Jags lost the game, Joe (who is originally from Easton, PA) went in the garage, got the hedge trimmers and mowed down about 6 inches of all of the bushes in the backyard.!! At the time he wasn’t laughing, but I was, and called one of his son’s over to the house to be sure we still had something left of bushes after he was done. Hysterical to me now! Thanks for the blog, it brought back a great reminisce and laugh.

  4. Donna in Delaware July 28, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    Great post. When I want to relax, I put on music and go out and plant something, whether it’s edible or not! I love planting both, but prefer to plant food. It is so much fun just to prepare the soil for planting, then watching what was planted grow, or NOT! Nevertheless, it is so therapeutic and fun. At the end of the day, you feel emboldened by what you have achieved in the yard or garden. You know that you have gotten a good workout because everything aches, or is sore. When you shower, relax and put your feet up, you give yourself a self-satisfied smile, and you feel as though you’ve conquered the world. You then hope that whatever it was that you committed to the earth or container, will grow and be prolific, providing you and yours with good memories (yes, I have those movies in my head too) and good eating!

  5. Alice Green July 28, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    Most of my life I’ve lived in trailers or apartments, but once for 12 years I rented my deceased grandma’s old house from my uncle. I was 58 (and white haired) when I moved in and wanted to plant flowers and anything to attract butterflies. So I planted gobs of Cosmos and bought 2 Butterfly bushes. And began my task of digging a hole deep and wide enough to plant the bushes. I got more attention from the neighbors as everyone wanted to know what I was doing, but the strangers who were passing by were the most curious. One old guy I’d never seen before stopped and watched me digging away. It was hot and my poor ole back was killing me and my hands were aching. Finally, the old guy who had been watching got up the courage to ask me what I was doing! ha. I said I’m digging a hole. He said, What are you going to bury? And I couldn’t resist it – I said, ‘A body’. And he walked away as fast as he could! HA. It was like he couldn’t figure out what I was doing, and the two bushes were laying right beside the hole I was digging. But the look on his face was priceless. Oh, and I never saw him walk by my house again, in the rest of the 12 yrs that I got to enjoy having a yard and flowers. The bees and butterflies Loved them. Now I live in an apt. with a balcony and have a few pots of Cosmos out there. My uncle wanted me to move so his daughter could live there, and after I was all out, he mowed down my two beautiful butterfly bushes. My old neighbors told me they sure do miss them and my flowers, and I am sorry they are gone as the butterflies loved them as much as I did. As always, Maria, thanks for the memories you stir up in all of us!!

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