The promise of spring and reclaiming a lost love

watering can

This past weekend was one of those rare warm winter days nature sprinkles into the dark dreariness of winter to keep those of us with SAD hanging on. I spent the day cleaning up the garden messes I’d abandoned in the late fall and there was something comforting about it.

I must confess my long-held lust for gardening  went into hibernation this past summer. I had so much going on in my personal life, I just didn’t need one more thing that I couldn’t control. And I don’t care what you green-thumbs out there say, gardening has never been something I felt in control of. Nature has a mind of its own and there are just too many variables involved in growing things to always get it right. I was fond of saying that a 50% success rate was all I needed to be happy in the garden. Sometimes the tomatoes were wonderful. Sometimes it was the eggplants. But there were always those impulse purchased chamomile seeds that didn’t come up or those transplanted pepper plants that refused to be coaxed into producing. Hey! I don’t care, as long as I have some corner of the garden I can point to and say, “But, this one turned out great!” I kept my expectations pretty low and I was normally happy with my gardening experience.

succulents in winter

Then last year, my enthusiasm fizzled. I sort of gave up. I just didn’t have the energy anymore. I had so many other projects to tackle. The garden and its constant needs (Water me! Prune me! Pick me! Water me some more! Weed me! Water me again!) just became too much. I felt it happening, and it kinda made me sad, but I just couldn’t deal.

Hubby took over most of the picking and emergency watering, which he usually does most of the time in the summer when the mosquitoes eat me alive, anyway, so I didn’t feel like I was abandoning my garden, really. I just needed some space. And when fall planting time rolled around, I just ignored it. I couldn’t bear the thought, I don’t even know why. I guess I felt like I just couldn’t pour any more of my personal time and attention into YET ANOTHER project I might not get results from. I was projecting lots of stuff that was happening in my personal and work life onto my garden, I guess. Every time I passed the garden, now a withered, frost-bitten mess of fall leaves, dead plants wrapped around bean-pole teepees, I felt a ping of guilt.

watering can

Then mother nature intervened. This weekend was too warm and lovely to ignore and tending to the garden was a great excuse to be outside. As I pulled the dried husks of tomato vines from cages and pulled stakes from the slightly-warmed winter ground I found myself daydreaming about what would soon be sprouting in each spot I cleared. I love this part of the gardening process: the daydreaming, the mouth-watering seed catalogs, the tidy beds turned and ready for slightly crooked planting rows. I raked and shoveled and plotted and schemed. I  was grinning to myself and yes, talking to myself, too. The sun felt great, the freshly turned earth smelled great. Even the dried hulls of the dead plants and herbs I pulled up and tossed on the compost pile smelled great. And it all started to come back to me. This is what I love about gardening. The process, the doing, the meditation of preparation. It doesn’t matter how much, if any, produce shows up on my table. It’s the act of gardening and communing with nature on a micro-local level that I love. I can’t believe I forgot that.

When I think back on the past year, my feelings of inadequacy and my inability to commit the effort to my garden, I’m reminded of a wonderful article by Gayla Trail that I’ve shared with my gardening friends before. On her You Grow Girl blog Gayla talks about what makes a great gardener on a more personal level. What she has to say about the process of becoming one is so lovely and honest:

“The act of gardening serves as an excellent life lesson in accepting one’s failures that extends beyond the garden. Over the years, gardening, and later writing about gardening, has helped me to recognize and confront my own feelings of inadequacy, shame and guilt: shame about class, not having enough, not being good enough, not being enough period, and sometimes being too much. It has invited me to indulge and delight in my desires freely, while asking (and sometimes forcing) me to have patience, take things slowly and look for frugal alternatives. Every minute in the garden is about relearning patience and reveling in the moment. Spending hours upon hours nurturing and observing plants has brought joy into parts of my life that I thought were irreparably scarred. It has provided a safe place for that long buried, hurt little kid inside me to play freely and to live the moments of wonder, discovery and self love she had to hide from angry adults.”

I love that. To “indulge and delight in my desires freely.” May we all find something, be it gardening, painting, baking or singing in the shower, that allows our inner self to delight in life as we live it. Amen.

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