Life is full of surprises: some good, some not so good. At times, these surprises can be earth-shattering, changing our entire lives, and others make much less of an impact. Yet, they all can shape the way we live or think about things. Learning to embrace these surprises instead of fearing them or dismissing them can be a difficult task. But, within my garden, I have learned to see that some unexpected events can bring joy and fulfillment if I am willing to embrace them.
I have experienced many surprises in the garden over the years; some I embrace more than others. The shock of a pest dining on your favorite crop, I will admit, is harder to embrace (although, I try to see the educational value of these unfortunate, unexpected events). One of my favorite surprises in the garden involves discovering volunteer plants. Most gardeners have probably experienced a volunteer plant or two, a rogue pumpkin, squash, or tomato plant growing out of the compost bin or a volunteer flower that self-seeded from the previous growing season. I can’t help but respect these unexpected volunteers that persevered by their sheer will to grow. They weren’t intentionally planted or cared for, and yet they succeeded. Nature is amazing.
When faced with these volunteer plants, we have a choice to make. We could yank them out if they are interfering with our other plants or growing in an inconvenient location, or we could let them grow and watch what happens. Being a curious type of person, I tend to choose the latter. My curiosity peaked, I start to question what kind of flower will bloom or what variety of tomato is sprouting. There is great excitement for me in these events, and I love to watch the mystery unfold.
This season, I had two volunteer tomato plants come up unexpectedly in the mini meadow that I had just planted. Throughout the summer, the plants grew tall and proud among the zinnias and cosmos. I had no idea what variety of tomato they were or where the seeds had come from, but I decided to embrace this unexpected event and let them grow.
As they started to flower, the excitement built, and my imagination started to run wild. What type of tomato would grow? What size and color would it be? If they matured, how would they taste? What a joy to go to the garden each day and check on these unexpected volunteers!
Another year, I noticed what I thought was a weed growing under my side porch. I was about to pull it when something inside my head told me not to. It looked vaguely familiar, similar to an impatiens. So, I let it grow, hoping to solve the mystery. It soon produced a bud, and I checked each day waiting to see what flower would bloom. When the wait was over, and it finally opened, there was a beautiful coral impatiens flower. I have no idea where that little plant came from, as I’ve never grown impatiens on my property. It was an unexpected joy watching it grow, and I’m happy I let this volunteer plant be.
One of my most memorable surprises in the garden was the year I thought I saw a hummingbird feeding in my phlox. Anxious to see the hummingbird, I cautiously approached to get a better look and discovered a snowberry clearwing hummingbird moth (Hemaris diffinis) instead! I had never seen one of these fascinating mimics before. It was intriguing and mesmerizing to watch. Their wings can beat up to 70 beats per minute, which produces the similar humming sound we hear with hummingbirds. By imitating birds, their mimicry is thought to help them avoid predators.
They sound and look like hummingbirds, but unlike their counterparts, they have a tongue-like proboscis double the length of their body, used to sip nectar. How lucky I felt to witness such a fantastic creature. This moment was just one of life’s wonderful surprises.
One of my greatest joys in the garden is looking forward to the unexpected. If we embrace these moments and let them play out, we might be surprised at the excitement and enjoyment they can bring. Many surprising things can happen in life, but we should embrace these moments, as they often mold us into who we are today. So, whether it’s a volunteer plant in the garden, a chance sighting of a species I’ve never seen, or any other surprise that life hands me, I’ll try to embrace the moment and see where it takes me.