My story in a nutshell – for as long as I can remember, plants always died on me with the exception of a succulent plant which miraculously stayed alive for three years when we lived in an apartment for eight years. As a result, I completely doubted in my ability to take care of any living plant that entered my house.
First picture is The BEFORE picture with a fully weeded garden.
Now, with our new house and garden, I’ve “inherited” a new vegetable garden, a rose and lilac bush and a few flower beds. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I were to let any of these beauties die because of lack of care and neglect.
And yet, the first flowers I bought and planted did end up dying because I didn’t water them enough and relied on our copious rain to give it life. To have now a thriving flower and vegetable garden is a HUGE deal for me because of my past history.
So here’s what I’ve learned about gardening, second chances, writing and life.
1. If you want “to play,” you’ve got to have patience to learn. Every endeavor or commitment requires giving it a chance, which means learning how things work and operate in the real world. Gardening is not like giving a “thumbs up” on Facebook or an automatic click. You need to get to know the earth, soil, seeds — which plants are best suited for the sun and which aren’t.
Second picture shows my new flower boxes!
A quick note on patience: I’m not a patient person to begin with, so this was a huge learning curve for me. But I am a writer, so I documented insights, feelings and observations in my journal which deepened the thought and curiosity process.
2. Plants and humans need water and not just for drinking. Water is creative energy for the plant and human soul! I’d mentioned that my first plants had died on me due to a lack of irrigation. As I pulled them out, it occurred to me that just when you think you’ve watered your plants, think again. They need constant watering! Us creative humans need water to replenish what is lost and give birth to the new.
3. You need to “tune into” gardening, to make it work. It’s been almost a month since we’ve moved into our new home, and I can say now with conviction that gardening is not something you can just do on the fly in between tasks. Even simple watering requires effort and intention. You put your body and mind to work and and allow yourself to become one with the earth.
4. You need to embrace your newfound responsibility as a garden owner and understand what that means. Last week, when I first started buying vegetable and flower seedlings for my new flower beds, I had no idea that within less than a week, my flowers would die. I was disheartened. How could I repeat the history of plants dying on me all the time! I was determined to break history. On the second trip to Lowes, I told my friend, “That’s it! I’m not buying any more seedlings unless I know I can take care of what I have!” I needed to be convinced that I was up to the challenge of learning to care for what I have. This is still a big thing for me so I’ve got to do it right!
5. You have to get dirty. This is something that isn’t often addressed in the writing-gardening world. Nothing happens when we just observe it from a distance. We have to interact with that “thing” whether it is life or a short work of fiction or an essay. Life is messy and writing can sometimes be even messier as you’re trying to figure out the pieces.
(Third picture – the garden is slowly getting emptied of weeds!)
6. You have to be prepared to work sometimes in solitude. Each time I work in the garden, I figure the process as I go. In life, there are very few moments when someone is intentionally helping us process something. As a parent and a teacher and mentor to my Giving Voice to my Story clients, I’ve learned the power of being a facilitator. My children need to be able to process information and experiences on their own. As a writer, I need to try things out on my own and call upon experts and get help when needed. Similarly, I ask my friends and people who know more about gardening than I do.
7. You have to embrace imperfection. Although parts of my garden may now look “picture perfect,” a lot of trial and error when into figuring out how to tend to it. Did I know I would need to add a new bag of soil to replenish the dry earth when planting new flowers or adding mulch (didn’t quite know what that was!) atop the new soil? I learned new words such as trellis and tomato cages and what they are used for. I learned a gamut of new plants including “hastas” and the difference between “annuals and perennials.” (Perennials = permanent. Good way to remember!)
8. Determination, following your intuition and asking for help are good ingredients for gardening because they call upon our need for success. When my first flowers died, I was determined to make sure the new flower bed wouldn’t die on me again. So I followed my intuition and activated my common sense. “Think, Dorit, Think.” What DO flowers need to stay nurtured? Moist earth, water, space, and sun. When I wasn’t sure of something, I asked friends who eagerly helped.
9. When you give, you always get back. This is true in life as it is true in being an author. Kathy Pooler of A Memoir’s Journey is a fine example of how she tends to her writing community by opening the doors to guest posters, commenting on other blogs and gifting us with her wisdom and experience. In a time where every author is practically urging everyone to “buy my books,” very few writers set the “giving bar” so high.
10. Like writing, gardening is a deep spiritual endeavor. Julia Cameron has said, “We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance.”
In my short-lived experience of gardening, I have found, that as solitary as it is, gardening is almost a form of meditation and perhaps even prayer. Our digital lives need this ongoing spiritual balance to step outside of our world, and make sense of it in order to have the courage and faith to look back in.
So there you have it. My take of how gardening mimicks “the writer’s life” and vis-versa. Do you have a garden? What have been your experiences and lessons tending to it?