Gardening as an Exercise in Self-Forgiveness

June 26, 2019 Updated: June 26, 2019

With the blue sky overhead, fresh green grass underfoot, and a warm, gentle breeze to my back, the hike up the nature preserve is light.

Having spent the morning in the garden, I felt my initial enthusiasm wane as thoughts drifted over my shortcomings as a gardener. We live in an area surrounded by flourishing CSAs, rolling farmland, and picture-perfect, high-yielding backyard vegetable gardens. On days like this, the risk to throw in the trowel and head to the farmers market is high.

For some of us, this “garden” thing we do is as much about love as it is an exercise in self-forgiveness.

When for instance the spinach bolts as soon as it comes up, because I missed that tender deadline and the seeds went in a week too late—again.

Or when out of three entire rows of carrots, my yield is three entire carrots, which are (in case you’re wondering) about 5 inches shorter and a whole lot scrawnier than the ones in the picture on the package. The package I so enthusiastically emptied 68 growing days ago and stuck upside-down on a stick, marking the row as planted.

And on another fine morning, I am suddenly faced with the aftermath of a molluscan Oktoberfest lying in the wreckage of the recently thriving crucifers. Apparently a gang of hungry slugs rather enjoyed the beer traps I (oh-so-cleverly) set in the ground, and overnight with voracious appetite have turned the curly kale into vintage lace.

Moving on, I wonder why the acorn squash quit growing at the “acorn” part while the cleverly hidden zucchini did not quit at “colossal” and is now large enough to feed a nation. I wonder further, if the wheelbarrow, with its flat tire, is even big enough to lug it out. Meanwhile, the opportunistic eyes of a groundhog are on my back, just waiting for the gate to be left open.

I’d rather not discuss the bell peppers at this time.

Going further, I notice that the wooden planks at the end of a five-year effort to raise the garden beds now need to be replaced. Brutish, bountiful burdock is laying fresh claim to prime real estate in four of these, and the weeds that choked the chard last year are at it with renewed vigor, in the rest.

Measuring the ratio between the work that went in against what was harvested last year, the heavier end sits, without debate, in the former. I scrutinize the annual attempt at this plot of produce and am sorely tempted, regarding that trowel.

But every year, those of us brave souls who suffer the challenges of less-than-green thumbs are right back at it. It’s a bit like giving birth, I guess, which really isn’t very comfortable. We go back and repeat that, too.

Though I really should be weeding, I’d rather ponder that thought a little further.

“Expecting” and “expectation” are related to the word “expect,” but you have to be careful which one you apply in regards to the garden. While “expectation” is a slippery slope and full of pitfalls, “expecting” is a state of being, which has a lot more hope in it. Although plenty of helpful advice and a plethora of successful growing tips are available to those in need, you will not likely hear: “Congratulations! I see you are expecting another lettuce!”

For the most part, the garden is a place where you learn to cultivate your own encouragement and trust that Mother Nature will eventually throw you a shower.

“Gardener.” The trouble really starts with the title and the standards it implies. In cases like this, it can hold a daunting bushel’s worth of self-deprecation.

Which is why I left for a walk up the nature preserve, naturally.

From the meadow at the top, the view is expansive.

In three directions the Berkshire Mountains are layered exquisitely in different depths of green and brown. Stillness. Behind me, the woods. A bee dips into a golden meadow flower. Swallows swoop and lift over the grass. To the northeast, a tiny, light speck marks a farm that sits behind a darker ridge of trees. Lofty cumulus clouds are either pulling away or towards it. From where I sit in the meadow at this moment, permeated by an ever-growing sense of interconnectedness with what surrounds me, direction is not important.

“Gardener.” A title that somehow, I felt I needed to live up to, in order to produce and be tremendously successful at it. Meanwhile, the great honor of being a steward to that tiny, yet significant, parcel was lost. The fact that something might grow at all, simply by the act of placing a seed in the ground, is an astounding miracle in and of itself! To be a part of that, is a gift.

Last year my godson Lio came to help in the garden. Four years old and not burdened by concerns of perfection, he busied himself by carefully placing an earthworm at the base of every plant in order to help it grow. We didn’t get much done but all that was planted that day, thrived.

I think I will see if he can come and help out tomorrow. He’s almost 5 now and still full of sweet, unfettered wisdom.

The sun is making its way towards the horizon. I take my shoes off and start the walk back down the nature preserve barefoot, to the edge of the meadow where the path pulls into the trees.

Cardinale Montano is a freelance writer living in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She shares her creativity with good friends, family, and eager learners, and celebrates daily the blessings of nature in the beautiful Berkshires. She is the founder and designer at LineflaxAndRoving.com

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