I’ve learned many lessons from the garden over the years, whether it be patience, persistence, or gratitude, but one of the first things the garden taught me was that you must have a sense of humor. As growers, we face many challenges, from pests, disease, weather extremes, wildlife, and sometimes even ourselves. I probably would have thrown in the trowel a long time ago if I didn’t have a sense of humor while gardening.
The first year I had a vegetable garden, I learned this lesson the hard way. My son was just over a year old when my husband surprised me with a vegetable garden for Mother’s Day. It was beautiful, and I instantly fell in love with growing. Being a vegetable gardener newbie, I meticulously researched everything I was growing and pampered those plants to the best of my ability. Then, one day, when it was time to water the garden, I decided to be a good environmental steward and reuse the water in my son’s small kiddie pool. It was time to clean the pool anyway, so why not use the water on my plants instead of dumping it on the ground. When I finished watering the plants, I turned back towards the house and stopped dead in my tracks. There was my husband scrubbing out the kiddie pool with bleach. A lump grew in my throat as I asked the dreaded question, “When did you put the bleach in the water?”. Well, I’m sure you know what the answer was. I had unknowingly just watered all my plants with a mixture of water and bleach. Within days, every plant was dead. It was then that I realized that if I wanted to be a gardener, a sense of humor was required.
Surprisingly, I made it through that fiasco and continued growing in the garden. But there is never a shortage of reasons to keep that sense of humor. The wildlife gives me a reason to quit each season, and I would have long ago if I hadn’t learned to laugh at some of their antics. One season it was a family of foxes shredding row cover and uprooting plants. Another season, the groundhogs emulated Houdini and repeatedly got into the garden for an all-you-can-eat buffet. How about the chipmunks that chew new holes in the bird netting daily to get into the blueberry patch. And when they sneak into the vegetable garden and take one bite out of each ripe tomato and strawberry. I see them laughing at me with cheeks full of confiscated food that apparently, I grew just for them. Or how about when I was harvesting berries under the bird netting, and a gray catbird swooped in? He picked a berry from the bush next to me and ate it right in front of me! I know he was laughing at me, so I learned to laugh at him; otherwise, I’d scream in frustration. I’m convinced that the chipmunks and catbirds are partners in crime who have plotted this elaborate scheme to steal as many blueberries as possible despite the netting.
Sometimes we must have a sense of humor when we make mistakes. We are bound to make a few while growing. Whether accidentally killing plants or forgetting to label others, we must permit ourselves to laugh at these blunders. Recently, I planted several astilbes that I want to use in bouquets. Knowing that they prefer shade, I grew them under our beautiful dappled willow tree in the front of our property. A few days later, I went to harvest some of the flowers for bouquets I was making, only to discover that they had bird droppings all over them. It turns out that a pair of robins had built a nest in the tree, and every time they flew to and from the nest, they left a deposit right on my astilbe blooms. So much for using them in bouquets! At first, I was devastated, but then I had to laugh at myself for planting them under a bird’s nest. Perhaps next time, I won’t plant them directly under a tree.
With gardening, there is a lot of give and take, and I’ve learned that there must be compromises if I hope to be successful. There is usually more than one solution to a problem, and if you’re willing to have a sense of humor when things go wrong the first time, you’ll set yourself up for success in the future. So an essential tool in my garden tool kit is the ability to laugh. I believe if you’re planning on being a long-term gardener, a sense of humor is required. It must say so in the job description. Because if you didn’t laugh as a grower, you would cry…a lot. Or at least I would (okay, sometimes I still do). Luckily, I keep my sense of humor whenever I’m out among the plants. And I’ll need it the next time I spot those chipmunks with their cheeks full of blueberries.
As poet and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The earth laughs in flowers.” And you know what? As gardeners, so should we.