When I first started gardening, I quickly developed a voracious desire to learn everything I could about the subject. I poured over every magazine and garden book I could get my hands on, taking careful notes and making sketches, trying to absorb all of the information and then applying it in my gardens. Over the years, I’ve become more and more passionate and enthusiastic about learning how to be a competent gardener, always looking to sources outside my garden to gain the knowledge needed to succeed. However, recently, I’ve noticed that if I pay attention, the garden itself is an excellent teacher, providing lessons that can be applied not just in the garden, but in my life. Lessons that I can’t learn from a book, but instead must experience to appreciate fully. One of the most meaningful lessons the garden has been teaching me is how important it is to nurture my relationships.
As gardeners, we have many relationships, all of which need to be nurtured to flourish and grow. We have connections with the soil, the seeds we sow, the plants we grow, and the environment in which we cultivate them. The mere act of planting a seed enters us into a relationship, one that then becomes our responsibility to care for and nurture. We need to listen and pay attention to what these relationships require. Could the soil use some compost or added nutrients to fulfill the needs of the plants we are growing? Is the soil temperature ideal for planting our seeds? Are we mindful of the creatures in the environment in which we wish to cultivate? These are just some of the questions we should consider when strengthening our relationships in the garden.
All of these relationships require a commitment on the gardener’s part, as we must make time to weed the beds, sow the seeds, water the plants, and harvest the fruit. If we don’t commit, the relationship is inevitably doomed to fail. No matter how much we might want the plants to succeed, without our attention and input to help them grow, they will not thrive. There is no room for selfishness in these relationships; gardeners must give what is needed and not what is wanted.
Trust and patience are also required for these relationships. We show patience when we wait for the right time to plant our seeds or as we watch the plants grow. We offer trust when we allow the seeds to emerge when they are ready and the plants to bear fruit when it is their time. To quote philosopher Lao Tzo, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Our trust and patience within our garden relationships allow us to enjoy nature’s accomplishments.
If we pay attention, our alliance with nature and the environment in which we cultivate will offer more relationship lessons. In observing the symbiotic exchange between plants and pollinators, we will notice the give and take, the mutual gains, and the benefits achieved by both parties. A butterfly takes nectar and pollen from a flower, as it continues this process it spreads the pollen, benefiting the fertilization of the flower. We, too, must learn to balance the give and take in our garden relationships, learning to give at least as much as we take.
We can learn from the trees swaying back and forth during a storm. They teach us that within our relationships, it is essential to stay grounded and bend before we break. Mother Nature is an expert at delicate balances within the bonds of its many flora and fauna. As gardeners, we should learn to respect these balances.
It was Gertrude Jekyll that once said, “A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all, it teaches entire trust.” I agree that our gardens have a lot to teach us about life and about relationships. If we are mindful and open to the lessons our gardens are teaching us, we will be all the better for it. To quote Robert Rodale, “In almost every garden, the land is made better, and so is the gardener.” The lessons I’m learning from my garden are not just guiding me to become a better gardener, but they are molding me into a better person. And for that, I am grateful.
I notice distinct correlations between our relationships in the garden and the ones we have in our personal lives. They require many of the same elements to thrive and grow, all needing attention, trust, respect, patience, commitment, and selflessness. Perhaps now more than ever, I take these lessons to heart, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is limiting our contact with those we have relationships with, our friends, our coworkers, our family, and our loved ones. At this challenging time of self-isolation, our relationships need special attention and patience. We should let the people in our lives know that we are thinking of them and care about them because now, more than ever, those relationships need to be nurtured.