I always think that I ought to be a gardener, even though I’m terrified of most bugs (especially spiders) and really hate having dirt under my finger nails. When I’m being practical, I have to admit that I’m really not made for mucking about in dirt and nature. But I have these fond memories of helping my grandmother plant marigolds in her garden, some twenty-five years ago, before my dislike of bugs and dirt was so pronounced. So when my husband and I moved out of our apartment to our current place with its small plot of land, I really thought that I would suddenly become a gardener. Let me share just how delusional I was: I was 7-months pregnant and had a nursery to set up (as well as boxes to unpack and a seriously dirty house to clean), but I really thought that I was going to jump into the habit of spending an hour or two a day kneeling in the dirt and making things grow.
I didn’t. I spent one or two hours total outside and then followed my usual pattern when things turn difficult: I let my husband handle it. My husband is actually quite a good gardener, and he’s particularly good at transforming out-of-control patches of garden into controlled and flourishing little landscapes.
I had an epiphany on Saturday afternoon, and I want to share it with the Internet-verse, because epiphanies don’t come my way very often (unless I’m cracking open a bottle of Epiphany wine… it’s good stuff.). Gardening can be a fairly good metaphor for life, and my approach to gardening (whether or not it leads to actual gardening, I should point out) is similar to my approach to relationships old and new.
When gardening, my favorite thing to do is to re-pot or plant in the ground sad, neglected root-bound plants. It doesn’t matter to me if it was my neglect that caused that sad mass of roots to congeal at the bottom of the pot. I like being the one to help that plant out. I talk to these plants. I reassure them that life will get better from here on out. I call them my darlings, my lovelies. I find a hospitable pot or dig them a big enough hole, and I mix compost, native soil, and plant food together for them before tucking them in with a hearty helping of native soil and a layer of top soil. I want the best for them. I hope they will thrive.
And then I go inside my house and I promptly forget all about them.
I’m bad at maintenance. I have to schedule regular meetings with friends or I’ll completely drop off the grids of their lives. It isn’t that I don’t love them or that I’m a bad person (necessarily)… it’s that I’m a bad gardener. A friend or plant who is immediately before me gets my full and loving attention, but as soon as that friend or plant is out of sight, they are out of mind, too. Maybe that’s normal. But I see a lot of people doing their daily gardening maintenance while I drive through my neighborhood on the way to work every morning, and it always makes me feel just a little bit bad about myself.
And now, because photos are awesome, here are some progress shots of our massive garden undertaking from this past weekend (most of the work was done by my husband and best friend, by the way. I planted some sad little root-bound plants and dug up some weeds, but I was mostly on kid-watching duty.).
Why did I decide to write about gardening on a blog that’s supposed to be about reading/neurosis? Well, I replied this morning to a comment someone left me, and in my reply I referenced Anne Lamott, a truly wonderful writer whose book Bird by Bird is one of my favorites. I’d already had my gardening:life metaphor epiphany (not all that earth shattering in the scheme of things, but it was meaningful to me at the time), and I remembered my favorite little bit from Bird by Bird.
People used to give me potted plants and trees, and what happened to them is really too horrible to go into here. They’d end up looking like I watered them with Agent Orange. I’d tell people that I didn’t do well with potted plants, and they’d decide that I’d just never met the right one and that they were going to be the person to free me and cause God to restore my glorious gift of sight and all that, and they’d bring me some little training plant, and I’d try really hard to water it and keep it in or out of sunlight, whatever its little card of introduction said it preferred, and to take it for little walks around the house, and within about a month you could almost hear chlorophyllous breakdown, a Panic in Needle Park sort of thing. Then you’d see it clutching its little throat, staring at you with its little Keane eyes, gasping and accusing–and I mean who needs it? Believe me, I have enough problems as it is.
And I thought, hey, why not? So maybe gardening is a metaphor for life and relationships, and maybe I’m kind of a failure at all of that, but at least I’m in good company being such a terrible gardener.