I’m one of those people who could always easily answer the question: do you plan to have children? “Of course!” I’d say, though when pressed for reasons for my certainty, I was more circumspect. I felt like children were part of life, an experience not to be missed, like finding a partner, having a career, growing old. Nevertheless, after the decision had been made, and pregnancy occurred, I was very conscious of a feeling of jumping off a cliff, blindfolded. Yet, I had faith in my ability to adapt, learn and persevere. Now my sons are older teens, and you’ll be happy to know that I have, indeed, managed.
Gardening is a lot like parenting. In both cases, we start out as newborns ourselves, bereft of experience, yet empowered to work with the force of life itself. When we look at our children, we see living, beautiful beings. We know that our efforts and sacrifice to raise them, usually so great as to have permanently and sharply divided the universe into “before” and “after,” have in no way solely produced this outcome. In the same way, gardening can feel nearly miraculous, as we realize the limits of our control and power. We plant seeds and they come up! Flower buds develop and then open! Insects pollinate! Rain falls! The vegetables’ colors deepen into rich reds, purples, and greens – a feast for the eyes and how much more so for the mouth! Gardening gives great joy as we witness first hand perfection far beyond our labor, intense as it may be.
Like parenting, you don’t have to garden perfectly, or even well; you just need to do it well enough. I really wouldn’t want to meet a parent that never made a mistake – I’m afraid they would be an alien or robot rather than a human. How often does a parent lose their temper or their patience? Fail to pay attention at a critical moment? Say the wrong thing or the right thing at the wrong time? Children thrive or at worst, survive, in the face of a litany of parental failure. In the same way, gardening can be closer to an endless misadventure than to perfection, yet still the miracle persists. Fruits will grow even when there is not enough sun. You may water too much or too little. You may plant too close together or fail to support your vegetables enough. Fortunately, gardening is very forgiving, as long as you can forgive yourself enough to persevere.
Books and blogs on parenting tell you to focus on your connection with your child, first and foremost. Similarly, there is no gardening knowledge that can replace your connection to your garden. Gardening is very forgiving, but correcting your mistakes before, for example, your plant dies, requires that you notice that it’s doing poorly. Connection is also essential to manage the curve balls nature throws like storms, pests, and diseases. I like to look at every plant in my garden every day. I notice the plant’s color, its “posture” or tone (firm and flimsy in the right places), and how close vegetables are to ripeness. I look for pests and beneficial insects. As I walk through the rows, I make mental notes of too many weeds here, needs watering, thinning or fertilizer there. I imagine empty spaces where plants past their time sit and plan to start new seeds to replace them. I envision delicious meals I’ll make with the produce coming soon. My thoughts and imagination flow effortlessly with time and experience. In the beginning, I used to just enjoy walking through the garden each morning or sitting with coffee and admiring the freshness, the colors, the buzzing, and the life.
When you have your first child, you can’t imagine the ways that squalling imp will change your life or how much you have to learn. As they grow, and you do your best through exhaustion and frustration, you may even think at times that you are working so hard for them. But like so much else in life, it’s in the giving that we get, and the treasures for our own growth shine deep in the parenting box of tricks. Gardening is like that – full of spiritual, psychological and physical rewards through the sweat. While I used to bemoan the anxiety I felt wondering if my seeds would sprout, now I recognize the invitation from Mother Nature to trust and relax. She has never let me down, only invited me deeper into the co-creation inherent in gardening. I’ve harvested plenty of food from my garden, but the most fulfilling harvest has been a greater understanding of our relationship, one that clearly extends beyond the garden. To get the good fruit, whether in parenting, a garden, or life itself, it takes a willingness to act, albeit imperfectly, with faith and intention, and a strong connection and presence to discern direction, alter course and fix mistakes. And the fruit IS good.
3 thoughts on “Gardening is Like Parenting”
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A very thoughtful, well-done post! Happy gardening!