Life Lessons From the Garden

seedling-195x130“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve turned 40 this year, and so far it has been the best year of my life! I don’t want to take any of my past years for granted, and while I thought I’d write some deep manifesto about all the wisdom I’ve gained from the craziness I’ve been through over the years, I realized it was a lot simpler than that. As I took some time outside to reflect on what I’ve learned, it became apparent – once again – that many lessons are present in the simple and beautiful cycle of life that we see in nature and in our own gardens. Which probably explains why gardening is so sexy;)

Consider the dandelion. Reviled by a lot of people as an insistent, bothersome weed, it nevertheless continues to proudly display its pert, bright yellow self in lawns and gardens everywhere, thriving in the face of adversity.

Thriving in the face of adversity.

Where, in our own lives, do we face adversity? How do we carry ourselves through it: head down, beating ourselves up or feeling defensive and resentful? Or head up and face open, like the dandelion, sure of our intrinsic worthiness, knowing our gifts to the world, even if the world doesn’t necessarily recognize them?

For those who know how to look and wait, the garden teems with other such life lessons. As the peak of the harvest season arrives this year, turn your awareness to the wise teachings of your garden. If you don’t have a conventional garden, a container garden on your porch or potted plants in your home still offer valuable lessons. If you aren’t anywhere near plants at home, just take a walk outside and look at the living things – even the grass the growing between the cracks of the sidewalk.

Life Lessons From the Garden
It’s OK to be imperfect. Trying to grow the perfect rose, or the perfect tomato, is an exhausting, never-ending quest for flawlessness. “Imperfect” roses are still beautiful and “imperfect” tomatoes still burst with flavor, just like we humans. With our myriad imperfections, we still contribute our own beauty and zest to the world.

“It is the imperfect that astonishes and attracts us.” ~ Paulo Coelho 

Pruning improves growth. Removing old habits that don’t serve us opens new possibilities for growth in areas that do serve us.

Regular maintenance is important. Isn’t it soooo much harder to clear an overgrown jungle of a garden than to regularly pull encroaching weeds? Think of the clutter that can accumulate in our houses, the extra pounds that are harder to lose than to keep off in the first place, the overwhelm or illness that can result from too little self-care. Develop daily habits that nourish you.

“Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.” ~ H. Jackson brown, Jr.

Have faith. Plant a seed, water it, and trust that it will grow. Similarly, believe that the shifts you make in your life, the dreams you hold dear, will fully blossom if you nourish and protect them.

“Someone’s sitting in the shade toady because someone planted a tree long ago.”~ Les Brown

A little stress makes your stronger and brings many things to fruition. In orchards there are people whose job it is to beat the growing trees with baseball bats or they won’t bear fruit. It’s beneficial to lovingly smack around a tomato plant to help it develop a strong stalk (usually the wind does that, but sometimes plants don’t get enough wind). Those are just a couple of examples of something we know well – without the challenges of life, we tend to wither and slouch. This doesn’t mean you need to intentionally attract stress your way. But it does mean knowing and embracing that expanding your comfort zone is a good thing.

Don’t be afraid to try new approaches. The garden is an incredible laboratory for experimentation. What new approaches do those old problems in your life need? Trial and error is one of life’s best teachers. Not trying is the domain of hopelessness.  

Take care with predators. It doesn’t take long for predators to damage the result of your careful cultivation, in the garden and in life. What toxic relationships, substances and emotions are feeding on your energy and taking away from what you have to give to others? Eliminate them.

Transform your trash. The compost heap turns rotting plant waste into a treasure pile of rich, organic fertilizer. What negative patterns in your life can you work to transform? When we do the hard work of breaking these patterns down, the results are often rich and beneficial to our lives.

“I’m queen of my own compost heap. And I’m getting used to the smell.” ~ Ani DiFranco

Pay more attention to your health than your appearance. As author William Longgood wrote, “Over-fertilized plants may be beautiful but are otherwise useless, like people whose energies are devoted so completely to their appearance that there is no other development.” And it’s not about being healthy. It’s what being healthy allows you to do.

Everyone is unique, needed, and connected. Everything in nature has a function that is interdependent. As one of my fave naturalists, John Muir, said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” Rock, plant, bird, bee—even bacteria in the soil—all occupy a vital place in life. What is your purpose, your gift to the world? Who do you depend on; who depends on you?

Something important happens every day. Take the time to notice the little everyday miracles in your gardens and in your life.

“I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation.” ~ Phyllis Theroux

Know what you want, and plan accordingly. You have to choose your seeds and think about where to place them. Visualize your landscape or your desired harvest. If you place the wrong plants close to each other it can do more harm than good. If you forgot to plant a seedling at the correct time, you may not reap a harvest. What do you want in life? How do YOU define success? How does your ideal life FEEL? What are the two things you can do right now to bring you closer to your dreams?

“It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the Spring who reaps a harvest in the Autumn” ~ B.C. Forbes
One of the best parts of growing is sharing what we’ve learned with others. Let us know below about your life lessons so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel;)