Caring for the garden and seeing it grow has been a rewarding project, independent of the joy of homegrown produce, and has taught me a lot about the importance of community, consistent nourishment and trusting the process. Below I've outlined a few major life lessons I've learned in return for tending to my small but peaceful garden landscape.
1. It's about the entire ecosystem, not just one plant.
This year I was more intentional in my plant placement so as to take advantage of the benefits of companion planting. I took time to research which plants thrived when placed in close proximity of each other, and which plants would interfere each others' growth. A plant trying to make it on its own simply won't thrive as well as a plant surrounded by helpful companions. For example, I learned that planting basil in close proximity of tomatoes increases the yield of tomato plants, and that marigolds help to ward off unwanted pests. This year I planted marigolds and basil next to each of my tomato plants and carefully staked each early on so as to provide a strong "support network" throughout the growing season. As a result my tomato plants are heartier, healthier and so far, more fruitful, than years' past.
This simple example reminds me of the importance of surrounding myself with community and maintaining a strong social support network. I am stronger and healthier when I surround myself with supportive and encouraging friends and family, engage in my community and maintain regular sources of accountability.
2. Healthy growth and development requires a fertile, rich foundation and consistent nourishment.
It took me a while to realize that much of the success of a plant is determined even before it is placed into the ground. I thought by buying large, hearty looking seedlings that they would thrive, but in reality gardening success requires fertile and nutrient-rich soil. Another mistake was starting with quality soil, but then failing to add nourishment throughout the growing season. As each plant develops roots, nutrients and water must be consistently applied to the soil otherwise those nutrients are quickly depleted. In the past I was more preoccupied with the outward growth of the plant that I failed properly nourish the soil and roots, the source of life for the plant! In regards to my own personal growth, that has me thinking: What nourishes me from the inside out? How am I caring to those needs to recharge on a daily or weekly basis?
The nutrients within the soil and its pH is a major determinant of whether or not a plant will thrive or yield produce. Last year I grew beautifully large squash plants that produced little to no fruit, likely due to lack of nitrogen in the soil. This year I've taken greater care to ensure the soil remains fertile and rich enough for each plant to grow.
3. Regular and intentional pruning promotes growth and development.
"Deadheading" is the practice of removing dead or spent flowers that are no longer serving the plant. Regular deadheading provides plants with room to grow, while also allowing them to conserve energy and resources to put toward the overall health of the plant. It keeps the garden looking fresh, neat and colorful. Similarly, I am learning the importance of regular and intentional pruning in my own life. By identifying and removing that which is no longer positively serving me, I am able to make room for new growth. A similar process must be applied in regards to the infestation of weeds or pest. Just as weeds and pests can quickly crowd out and drain the reserves of the garden, so can unnecessary activities (over-scheduling) or sources of negativity in our life. Consistent pruning and weeding is a necessary process of keeping life (and plants!) healthy and balanced.
4. The fruits of our labor are not always outwardly visible.
When we invest a lot of energy and resources into something, we typically want to see results ... and quickly! Potatoes (and most other root vegetables) simply do not work that way. While they DO produce stems, leaves and flowers above the surface, their true treasure remains hidden beneath the surface until ready for harvest. I have found this simple fact challenging in regards to monitoring growth and developing, but I continue to nourish the potatoes regardless. I have observed a similar trend in my training, where I'm often looking for outward affirmation in the form of workout and race performances as evidence that my hard work is paying off. Such is not always the case, and these potatoes are reminding me of the importance of trusting the process. By remaining faithful and patient, I know I will be handsomely rewarded with a harvest of golden nuggets when the time is right. When it comes to the fruits of my labor in training and life, I am trying to maintain a similar mindset by trusting the process and that, with time, consistency and patience, my hard work will pay off.
5. Slowing down to take note of the little things is meditative while promoting peace and gratitude.
My mornings are looking a little differently these days. Whereas before I was quick to jump into work or catch up on the latest developments in the social media world, I've been learning to take things a little slower. For me, that has meant reading and journaling while sipping on my morning coffee, then meandering through my garden to tend to its needs. Chirping birds provide a peaceful soundtrack as I make my way from plant to plant, watering each and taking notice of new growth and any other needs the plants may have. My husband has this habit of staring at his fish tank for long periods of time, seemingly mesmerized by his fish. I never truly understood why until now. Walking through my garden has been a wonderful exercise in tuning out the busy-ness of life and tuning into the simplicity that is nature at work in my backyard. It's extremely peaceful and teaching me the importance of regular reflection, tuning into my body's needs, and taking time to be grateful for the many small miracles that are happening around me each day :)
The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.
What life lessons have you gained from tending to your garden??
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