For the first time in a few years I’ve grown a garden this summer. It’s not much, an old table set with some herbs, lettuces, and cosmos, and two half barrels on either side of it, one containing summer squash and one with tomatoes, all tucked in one corner of the backyard. I also planted some new flowers to add to the few plants and lone miniature rose bush on the patio. Add an eclectic group of chairs and I have a quite nice sitting area for all my efforts. It’s autumn and I’m sitting amongst my plants and flowers now, reflecting on the lessons my little garden has gently brought back to my conscious, and I am grateful for them.
The first lesson I was reminded of is that timing is everything. My grandma and mom religiously planted their garden by the moon signs (the Farmer’s Almanac was a staple in my home as a child) and judging by the jars of tomatoes and green beans I had to help ‘put up’, they were very successful. There is a time to plant and we must be ready when it comes. We must have our beds all made and soil prepared, after all, you can’t just throw seeds into some dirt and expect a bountiful harvest. If I want my business to grow, I must make sure I am prepared with knowledge and watch for opportunities to use it. If I want my children to succeed, I must prepare them for the ups and downs of life and I must know when to allow them more freedom. Timing and preparation are imperative if I want my garden to succeed, and equally imperative if I want my life to succeed.
Gardening requires diligent watering. I live in a very hot climate so missing one day of watering could be the end of a seedling. Even if I missed a day with full grown plants, I could see the stress it caused them. They could not produce fruit at their best with haphazard watering. I learned to love the discipline of it. One of the benefits of gardening is that we get immediate gratification. Almost daily we can see our little sprouts reaching out with new growth. I was reminded that some areas of our lives require daily “watering” as well. Exercise for one thing. Our muscles lose strength if we miss even a day of a workout. Our mental health requires some sort of meditation on a daily basis so that the new seeds of thought or creativity can break free of the soil and grow to bear fruit. But we learn to love the discipline of it. I like the strength my body has, I like the way my clothes fit as a result of keeping myself physically healthy. I enjoy the new ideas that come to me as a result of meditating – watering my soul. I definitely cherish the enlightenment and personal growth that comes with it. And if I don’t, if I miss a day or week or so, then I find I am stressed, not receiving any new enlightenment. I am not growing, and any fruit I bear is puny.
As our seedlings grow and plants mature, one of the crucial elements of gardening comes into play: thinning and pruning. Those little sprouts, so perky and promising must be thinned. I know it is logistically impossible for my half barrel to sustain twelve squash plants, three or four at the most. So I must pluck from them the weakest, the smallest, and the ones less promising. Ideas are like this I’ve noticed. I do not possibly have room in my life for every idea that comes across the wire. I must choose which one will benefit me most, which one is most promising, which one will grow to bear the most fruit. But it is not just in the thinning of the sprouts that pruning takes place, we must also prune as the plant grows. My tomato plants remind me of “Little Shop of Horrors,” they know no bounds and would take over half the yard I swear if I didn’t cut them back. By doing so, the plant is allowed to focus its energy on the developing fruit it has. Otherwise, it would become overtaxed by trying to feed all the tomatoes and they would end up puny. It is good to bear fruit. It is not so good to overtax ourselves trying to feed too many projects; they will suffer in their success. I was reminded that we must be careful to understand that we cannot do it all. We must remember to scale back those areas of our lives that would inhibit the best harvest, even if they are healthy, even if they have the potential to bear fruit. The simple reason is that we only have so many resources available in this life, we must be sure to channel them carefully for maximum yield.
We must enjoy our harvest! There is no better feeling than being able to go out, grab a couple of summer squash and a handful of basil and cook it immediately, food straight from my back yard and into the mouths of my family; or picking a few tomatoes to dice and throw into a salad, bright red, sweet and juicy – best taste in the world. Neither is there a better feeling than when an idea has come to fruition: an article was published, a contract gone through, a child earning an award. It is important to savor success; much work, effort and discipline goes into its creation. Besides what happens if we do not eat the fruit? It spoils. We might as well enjoy it. I was also reminded by my proliferous squash plants that it is important to harvest consistently or else there’s no room for the new squash to grow. As a writer, this particular reminder hit home. If I have two or three ideas for articles to write, then I must get them out, I must harvest them in order for new material to come to bear. What happens to squash (ideas) that are not picked? They grow to be absurdly big and too tough for consumption. They spoil – and they rob the plant of the ability to focus its energy on new squash since it has to feed this old dying useless thing. Likewise, consistent harvesting of our ideas means more creativity.
Finally, gardening gently reminds me of the cycle of things. As I said, the growing season is coming to an end. Already I’ve pulled up my squash plants. I’ve got another month left of tomatoes, basil, and oregano before the first frost. It seems that we have a similar cycle of creativity. A project begins as a seed and before you know it it’s run its course. Game over. While we feel pressure to move on right away to the very next thing, gardening reminds us of a different path. We need a moment to rest, just as the soil needs a moment to rest, just as an apple tree needs a moment to rest. We need a rest to recuperate after a harvest and build up the energy for another growth and bearing cycle.
So happy hibernating! Enjoy the fruits of your labor this winter if you’ve ‘put up’ some of your harvest – I will be enjoying some homegrown, homemade sundried tomatoes. And as I do, I will be thankful of the lessons I’ve been reminded of this summer, keeping them in mind for when I’ll need them later, like tomorrow.