The Reckless Gardner

When it comes to gardening the first rule is this: you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, anything worth cultivating is going to take time and work. And how satisfying will it be to see the hard work pay off! Where there once was just grass there is now a patch of earth ready to be seeded. Where there once was dirt there is now vibrant flowers stretching towards the sun. You helped it along, your hands, back and knees.

Before you get started you need to know what you are planting and what it needs. Sun? Shade? Water? You also need to know if it a perennial or annual. For those unfamiliar with these terms, a perennial is a plant that grows back year after year while an annual blooms one season and then never blooms again.

Last year I moved to a new city and these flower terms have me wondering which type of flower I am. Am I a “one and done” kind of girl here or am I in it for a long haul? My roots reaching deeper until I forget I was ever anywhere else at all.

I will admit, this past year, I’ve felt like leaving more than I’ve felt like staying. I’ve lamented and gnashed my teeth at the injustice of moving to the city of my dreams “far too late” which is the phrase I drone on.

I am now wondering what “far too late” means.

Sure, I am not a teenager ready to try my wings in a new place, hopeful for a path to reveal it’s self to me. I know the path, I am on the path. But change your surroundings and the path seems rockier, unsteady and covered with a great fog. Gone is the single track surrounded by high grass leading me onwards. I’m less Walt Whitman and more Jane Eyre these days. The weather has changed and my cloak is far too flimsy for the weather. These days, it’s only fun being caught in the rain if your know your way home.

But what is home? And where is it? And will I ever find it? Because I’m close to thirty and I’m starting to panic. I heard someplace there’s no place like it. But I can’t find it. Oh why oh why can’t I?

But back to gardening…

I thought I had steadfastly tended to my “career garden” my “health garden” my “relationships garden”, turns out; I think I was using the wrong soil. Or, perhaps, the same soil for all of these plots when actually they each need something different.

And that, my friends, is how I am defining adulthood. The intuition to tend to your gardens differently depending on the seeds you’ve planted.

Some seeds are quick to sprout and soak up the care you give them. You dote on every little new leaf. It is something like love watching seeds turn to plants and plants flower and bend in the breeze. Some seeds grow slow and need more or less water. Some seeds you yell at, the earth still brown, your brows furrowed because nothing is happening. Then, one day, viola! Tiny little plants emerge. You stop yelling, embarrassed by your need to hurry and sit penitent; lesson learned. And then some seeds, and this is the hardest lesson; some seeds sprout, grow and then right before your eyes; wither and die. You gave them everything you could. The right amount of water and plant food, sunlight, care and yet: there they are- still dead. This is confusing and depressing. A smart gardener would take careful notes to help for the future. The reckless gardener will sit in her overalls crying, concerned more with her failure then the facts. This year I have often been the latter, watching all my hard work “crumble”. I tend to ask the wrong questions, I stay far too long at the fair. And, while I stare at my dried plants, I forsake my other gardens and they grow wild and unruly. Once this happens they take a lot of time to get back into shape.

This year I grew Sweetpeas from seed. They did so well, I figured I was going to be a master gardener by the time I turned a new decade. I loved watching them grow tall in the open window. Then I went home to Maryland for the weekend and when I came back to New York City they were laying flat in their tray: dead. Dry. I failed them and I felt bad.

Last week, I was walking through my backyard at home and saw, funnily enough, that in the crack of concrete of the back steps my Mother had a bunch of yellow and pink Snapdragons growing. Despite the fact that they were growing in a difficult position, and despite the fact that my mother did not purposefully grow them at all; they grew. They Snapdragons flowered. And they made a beautiful addition to what otherwise would have simply been steps. I spent a lot of time stroking gazing at their petals and thinking about the Sweetpeas I almost had. It sounds simple and silly writing that now. But I couldn’t help thinking, sometimes life finds a way. Through the cracks and the accidental planting. They Snapdragons grew despite their circumstances.

I am a careful person, but I try to leave room for wildness. For surprise and unexpected beauty. Often times my eyes are cast so closely on my failures I have a hard time counting my successes.

Perennials and annuals and vegetable and bushes and trees all need different types of care. I should remember that not just for my Sweetpeas next year, but for my own life. To not rush the process. How one minute it may just be a barren field but overnight something may take root. Just because you can’t see what is going on under the soil doesn’t mean growing isn’t happening.

Sometimes a garden takes hard work and preparation. And sometimes there are flowers blooming unexpected and reckless with wild abandon. Sometimes despite the impossibility of it; a garden just grows. It may not always look that way you think, it may not be the crop you were hoping for, it may not always show up when you pray for it. But there is a season for all things, for perennial and annual both. And for patient gardeners as well as reckless ones.

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