Thursday, March 24, 2011

What The Garden Gives Us

It’s spring.  I know this because the vibrant flowers and the minty green infant leaves are announcing it with colorful fanfare.  The profusion of plant life creates in me a delirium of spring fever.  Basically, it makes me want to garden.
The way life bursts forth in the first weeks of warm weather each year stirs something deep inside me – a compulsion to prune and weed and dig and plant.  I know I’m not the only person that the season infects with a kind of horticultural virus.  It’s the only explanation for the 72 vegetable seedlings covering the table of my parents’ kitchen, my friends’ numerous discussions of raised beds and container gardening, and the debates of seeds versus seedlings.
I have noticed a bounty of gardening metaphors “sprouting” up in conversation lately, probably because the season has already pushed gardening to the forefront of my mind. (There’s one right there in that last sentence.  They tend to “germinate” when you least expect it.)  For instance, my mother pointed out to me yesterday that my children are “growing like weeds”.  And my aunt looking at my daughter commented on how “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” (Since there weren’t any apple trees around, I’ll assume she meant that my daughter strongly resembles me.) 
While it makes sense that agricultural allegories would be relevant to discussions of vegetable gardens and spring flowers, if you look around, you’ll discover garden imagery invoked to illustrate endless varieties of life lessons.  I’m no cabbage head, but this can’t be small potatoes.
Perhaps the acts of sowing and reaping in the physical garden have benefited humanity with more than just delicious food to fill our bellies. In the garden we unearth the principles of hard work, discipline, cooperation, delayed gratification, responsibility, and planning, and if we allow these values to take root they can yield fruit in many other areas of our lives. Gardening can help us focus in on what’s important, leading us back to more healthy ways of thinking about the relative value of time and money and help us weed out the distractions of consumerism.  Gardening keeps us grounded (with more than just dirt under our fingernails).
The garden is a microcosm of the natural world, a place to experience the cycles of life and the natural rhythms of the earth.  Understanding that the end of something is almost always the beginning of something else becomes tangible in the garden.  The end of summer says goodbye to yellow squash and green beans, but hello to cabbage and pumpkins.  When things change, you move on to the next great thing in life.
If you are a gardener, you understand that you can live in the moment, as well as the past and the future concurrently.  The gardener is able to tend what is there presently, plan for what comes next, all while remembering the history of what came before – what worked and didn’t work.
With so many lessons to be learned from getting your hands dirty, it’s no wonder our language yields such a bounty of agricultural clichés.  There is deep wisdom in gardening.  Dig around in there long enough and you’ll unearth so many parallel laws that govern life it will blow your mind.  Maybe life is so peppered with garden metaphors because truly the garden itself is the great metaphor for life. As poet May Sarton expressed, “A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.”  As a model for life that makes sense, the garden is a real and tangible place to start living it. 
Can you dig it?

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