What I’ve Learned About Gardening and what Gardening has Helped me Learn About Me…

Thank you to everyone who read my guest post over at Perfection Pending last week! I was so grateful for the positive feedback and humbled by the shares.

Today’s post is about what has become one of my favorite hobbies:
It’s been just less than a year since I took the leap and decided to try some gardening in our backyard. In that year we’ve discovered the joy of homegrown flowers, the better flavors of garden fresh veggies, and all sorts of lessons. It’s been strange having friends ask me my thoughts on their starting a backyard garden because I am by no means an expert or even what I would consider an intermediate gardener.

But I have learned a few lessons both about gardening and from my garden and I thought I’d share a few today.

*I’ve learned that I’m pretty terrible at growing herbs.

The only herb I had any success with in the past year was sage and I’m pretty sure that’s because the growing container it came with was meant to be fool proof. Herbs were the first things I tried to grow a long time ago and because they all died I figured I’d always be terrible at gardening, it turns out herbs just aren’t my specialty. To find success as a gardener, I just needed to try a different approach and a different variety of seeds- if that’s not applicable to life, I’m not sure what is…

*I am far more likely to hurt my plants by overwatering than forgetting to water– This is ironic because we live in a desert and with how hot it is most of the time it’s hard to believe overwatering is possible, but I’ve seen the telltale yellowing leaves of a plant that is essentially being drowned and I can’t help but think how much this aspect of my gardening is a reminder about my deep desire to always be DOING and FIXING instead of just giving things time to grow or work themselves out. It might seem like a weird flaw to have- trying too hard- but expending too much effort in a way that doesn’t help can drown budding business ventures, friendships, and even suck the joy out of hobbies. (Maybe this is my problem with herbs? I’m trying again with basil and cilantro this spring so maybe a conscious effort to water less will help me conquer this issue…) I think this deeply ties to my struggle with perfectionism, but more on that in another post.

*Things won’t grow as well if you forget to replenishing the soil between seasons, or if you plant too much. We use raised beds and containers for our backyard garden, so while we use some of the natural dirt and soil for the plants that have longer roots, most of our soil we bought the first year so we didn’t have to worry about amending the soil. When we started our spring garden I made sure that we added some nutrients back into the soil… or at least I made sure we did in our raised beds, but I sort of forgot to do that in our containers. You can tell the difference. Our plants are growing in both the containers and the beds, but the actual produce the plants are putting out are noticeably smaller and weaker than what is coming out of the garden beds. There are one or two containers I’m thinking of pulling plants out of and then starting again, but others I may need to either get creative with or else just wait until we plan our fall garden to fix this.
Similarly, I always sow extra seed since the germination rate is never 100% on what you plant, and sometimes I am not diligent enough about thinning out the plants that sprout. This means I’ve planted too much and, once again, the actual veggies they produce are not as good as they might have been if I had let the plants have the space, water, and nutrients they needed by thinning out the plants.
So, this is a lesson I thought I learned when I read the book CULTIVATE last summer- you can’t do it all and do it well and you can’t grow #allthethings in a single season. This relates to life and to gardening of course- If there’s one thing I’ve learned since leaving grad school and even more since becoming a mama, it’s that if you don’t give yourself seasons of slowing down and replenishing yourself and your family with care then you may still be able to grow and output projects, but your outcomes may feel a little anemic, or you may feel flat out exhausted and burned out, unwilling to plant anything new or tend to what you already have going on in your life. I don’t know WHY this is a lesson I need to learn over and over and over again, but the garden has given me such a great visual and such a tangible experience when thinking about this principle. (and if you want more gardening wisdom, you can read from a much more experienced gardener than me in Lara Casey’s book!)

*Seeds don’t stay healthy forever, so think about sharing them. We bought our first seeds from a local farmer’s market, and also tried many other seeds through our library’s seed sharing program. It wasn’t until I bought seeds online that I realized the absurd number that came in a pack. I mean- these are clearly meant for people who want to grow a LOT of one variety. Some of what we grow only comes with 10-15 seeds because they are specialty varieties we want to try, but many varieties come with 50-100+ seeds in a packet. I figured we were set for a while on those varieties, until I learned more about how the germination rate of seeds basically plumes after two years. So if you have more seed than you can reasonably use in that amount of time, it’s probably better to share what you have. I’m hoping that maybe when I buy new varieties that come with a lot of seed in the future that I can connect with other gardening friends and trade for varieties they may have purchased and can’t use all the seed from. (I’m especially interested in this when it comes to flowers! I am having so much fun seeing different varieties bloom in our garden and I want to try so many but most of the ones I love are pretty pricey because they are only sold in large quantities.)
I am trying to remind myself about this idea as I try to simplify my house this year- that even if I have a bunch of stuff I plan to use again someday… if I’m not actively using it now, maybe I need to consider giving it to someone who can before it becomes dated or yellowed or just plain obsolete. Let me tell you though, sharing seeds is WAY less emotional than saying goodbye to possessions, especially ones that bring up nostalgia… looking at you, adorable baby outfits…

*Routines are great, but living on auto-pilot kills plants. Before I tell this story, let me emphasize that my husband is amazing. He has put in a lot of work to make our lawn beautiful, especially considering out backyard was straight up dirt and a few trees when we first moved in. So in his normal routine of mowing the grass he has occasionally forgotten that we had a new rosebush planted in between the trees and therefore he thought it was a weed and mowed right over it, or he let an extension cord knock a new container over. He’s not the only one who has fallen pray to being on auto pilot! I recently forgot that I was hardening off some seedlings on the porch and that some of my small containers were there as well, since I usually keep everything out in the grass near the raised garden beds. From my kitchen if I can see the kids are on the porch I know they are good to go and can’t get into anything they aren’t supposed to… except when I have said seedlings and containers up on the porch. I found some very dead plants and a daughter who was very upset when I kept her from eating new soil (If anyone was wondering- THIS kind of incident is why I choose organic gardening- even my preschooler still tries to put the strangest things in his mouth…) And this event leads me to my last lesson for this post…

*My job is to raise children, not flowers. This comes from an anecdote I love, I can’t remember which parenting book it was in, but the basic story is that a father was teaching his son to mow the lawn and when he went to answer a question his wife had, the son accidentally went off the path shown to him and mowed down several feet of their flower bed. Just as the father was about to lose it on his son, the wife reminded him that they are growing children, not flowers- that the relationship you have with your kids and what you are teaching them is far more important than a set back in your landscaping. This story is about parents and children, but it could easily be about any relationship vs. any project or material object. I have had a few times I’ve felt deeply frustrated that some of our veggies have been pulled out much too early by an overenthusiastic preschooler or when I can’t turn the hose off quite fast enough to keep our baby from spraying water all over herself and her brother, but those moments are worth all the lessons they are learning in the garden right alongside me. They are learning about nature and food and life and death and seasons and work and planning and growing… and even better than all those lessons- they are having FUN and making amazing memories with me. In the end, that is why I get excited the most about gardening.



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