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10 Lessons I Learned From Our Garden (And none of them have to do with food!)

Posted Jun 20 2012 4:00pm

When my husband planted these grapes I thought he was nuts – we do not have the climate nor growing season for grapes – and yet look at them thrive! Lesson learned: Never underestimate the power of faith. And fertilizer.

After a long night of anxiety- and thunderstorm- fueled wakefulness (two hours of sleep is worse than none, in my opinion), I was awakened by the dulcet tones of… “I HATE YOU!” “I WISH YOU WEREN’T BORNED!” “WELL I HOPE YOU GET CHAINED TO A CLIFF AND YOUR LIVERS GET EATEN BY VULTURES!!” (We’re, uh, big fans of grammatically incorrect Greek mythology around here.) Kids fighting is going to be the theme of this year’s summer vacation, apparently. And what were my little violent darlings arguing so heatedly about? Who got to eat the most peas out of our garden.

Yes, they were arguing over vegetables. Not gonna lie, I was a little proud.

Nevertheless, I rolled over (and by “over” I mean “over the two-year-old who’d mysteriously ended up in our bed during aforementioned thunderstorm and had spent the rest of the night kicking me in the kidneys) and whacked my husband. “Go stop them before they pick all the unripe cherries. Again.” I mumbled. When he remained unresponsive – that man can sleep through, well, thunderstorms – I added, “This is all your fault. You and your organic garden with its amazingly tasty produce.”

The garden has always been my husband’s baby. Every year he starts planning it in January (peppers this year?), worrying about it in March (how are you supposed to know if it’s the last frost or just the second-to-last frost?) and then planting it, watering it, weeding it and caring for it through the summer (Stop letting the kids water it until it’s a swamp!). I help out by… eating it. The kids are only slightly more helpful than I am but any good they do is ruined by their damage when they decide to play Godzilla. I’ve often wondered why my husband goes to the bother of a garden when it so often gets picked early, trampled over and peed on by little critters. (And the bunnies, squirrels and deer aren’t great either.)

So this morning he answered me again, the way he always does: “Let them have it, Charlotte. We’re raising children, not cherries.” And yet again I was reminded that there is a bigger purpose for working with the earth. While I am by no means an earth mama – “zen” to me is just a power-play word in Scrabble – I decided to skip the gym this a.m. and spend the morning in the garden with Jelly Bean (my 3 boys were on a field trip). This is what the earth taught me:

Lesson 1: Good things come to those who look for them. If you’ve never had peas straight out the garden, let me tell you that they are so flavorful it will make you wonder if the kind sold in stores are even the same species. But peas are tricky – you can stare at the plant for an hour and not see anything but then realize you missed a huge handful. Delicious peas, like many opportunities in life, are there for the taking but you have to take them and not just wait for them to fall in your lap. And sometimes that means looking really hard at things you think you’ve looked over a million times until you see something new in them. Also applies to people. (P.S. For any of you wondering what to do with your old drop-side crib now that you can’t sell or give them away, they make excellent pea stakes!)

Lesson 2: Be prepared to love the unexpected. The label on this cherry tree distinctly said “sweet red cherries.” I can tell you from personal experience that the only part they got right was the “cherries.” At first I was disappointed by how consistently tart they are (and hot pink!) – I grew up eating Ranier cherries straight off the tree and so I am admittedly spoiled – but wishing something (or someone) were different than it is, is an exercise in futility. Accept things for what they are, even if it’s not what you had expected. Better yet, make cherry cobbler out of them because the tart is the perfect complement to the sweet. As Elder Wirthlin says so poignantly, “ Come what may, and love it!”

Lesson 3: Laugh with abandon. I firmly believe God has a sense of humor (hello sea cucumbers!). People often get so wrapped up in the hard things in their life (and with good reason) but we can’t let ourselves forget that life is for living and we only get one ride on this ‘coaster. Sometimes there is no hard lesson – sometimes things happen just to make you laugh. Like this: Jelly Bean came running up to me and said, “This my pooping face! Take picture!!” So I did. And then she lived up to her promise and pooped. Can’t find a funny? Take a picture of your pooping face. It’ll probably make you laugh. And if not it will definitely make me laugh and that’s what’s important here.

Lesson 4: Look up. We’ve had these apple trees for 5.5 years now and have yet to get a single piece of edible fruit. A major reason for that are the insane Midwest thunderstorms. They always blow off all our fruit. So today when I saw several green apples on the ground, I got all sad. I love apples! Why can’t I have apples, darnnit? Then I looked up. And saw these tenacious guys. Staring at the ground keeps us from tripping but then we miss the sky. So when it seems like everything good is falling down around you, try looking up, even if it’s just for the view of the sky.

Lesson 5: Beauty exists for it’s own sake. This clematis doesn’t produce fruit or grow veggies or even smell good – and yet I love it. This purple is one of the most remarkable colors I’ve ever seen. It makes me happier just by looking at it. Which just goes to show you don’t have to be accomplished or rich or fancy to be worthy of appreciation. We each have our own innate beauty and that’s a gift worthy in its own right. You are beautiful simply because you are. And you are because someone loved you enough to make you beautiful.

Lesson 6: Everyone needs a solid support system. This tree, through no fault of its own, was planted in bad circumstances. But just like you are where you are, it is where it is. So rather than focus on changing the unchangeable, we’re focusing on supporting its growth where it stands. You’ll notice that there’s a giant rock at the base – everyone needs a rock in their life – but there are also ties and smaller stakes and coverings. There are lots of ways to support someone so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t be the rock. And: Let yourself lean on others. And: Don’t make fun of the tree that needs the rock and the stakes just because you weren’t planted on a watershed hill.

Lesson 7: Mistakes happen. This patch of ground by our mailbox hates us. We have planted so many different things here – flowers, shrubs, a Rescue Heroes control tower – only to have each one die in turn, just like this little pine shrub is in the process of doing. But rather than beating yourself up, try to learn not to repeat it and in the meantime learn to accept unfilled space. Nothing wrong with an empty canvas until you figure out your next step.

Lesson 8: Get in it and get messy. From above it looks as if there are almost no raspberries growing on this bush and yet when I squatted down to Jelly Bean’s level, look how many appeared! As she and I learned this morning, even if thorns are involved it’s worth it to get in and get your hands dirty to get the yummy berries. (And the plastic dragon!)

Lesson 9: Volunteer! If you don’t like where you were planted – like this little raspberry bush that ended up across the yard from its kin – take the initiative and move. My husband calls these little plants that just appear without being intentionally planted “volunteers” because they don’t wait to be asked, they just jump in.

Lesson 10: In the end, we are so so small. A friend once told me to sort my worries into three categories – Will this still bother me in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years? – and then focus my energy on the items in the 3rd. Of course we have to pay attention to the details of the now but there is peace to be found in the long view.

Do you plant a garden? Do you consider yourself an “earthy” or “nature-y” kind of person? Have you ever learned a lesson from being outdoors? (Don’t wipe with poison ivy?)

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