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7 Life Lessons Your Garden Can Teach You

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Dig a little deeper and you’ll find unexpected insight right in your garden.

By Nicole Faires Posted Jun 16, 2017

Water droplet on leaf

I say, if your knees aren’t green by the end of the day, you ought to seriously re-examine your life.
– Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

A garden delights every sense – the bees humming amongst the flowers, the soft dirt between our fingers, the bright colors of ripening fruits amidst the greens, the taste of a freshly picked tomato. But true garden lovers know that the benefits of gardening aren’t just physical. As the years pass season to season, gardens teach us things about life that change who we are.

1. Learning to look at things from a different perspective can save you a lot of heartache

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.
– H. Fred Dale

There are gardeners who battle against the elements, fighting to put a specific plant in a specific place, only to find that the same pests return year after year to destroy their best-laid plans. ‘Why don’t the chemicals work?’ they cry, and, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ When you’re beating your head against the wall because the same old thing isn’t working any more, maybe it’s time to reevaluate and try something new. Change is good, especially being able to see something with new eyes.

Lady bug on moss

2. Optimism is important

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding you up until your back gets used to it.
– Author Unknown

Seed catalogs arrive when snow is still on the ground in most places, and garden planning is really just an act of imagination. The failures of the previous year and the hard knots in your lower back have faded away just long enough to dream of an even better garden this year. Trusting that the future holds the possibility of better things, new growth, and sunshine (as well as much-needed rain) is the first step to making good things happen.

3. The most beautiful things in life are sandwiched between a rock and a hard place

In gardens, beauty is a by-product. The main business is sex and death.
– Sam Llewelyn

One of everyone’s least favorite gardening jobs is thinning seedlings (or at least mine is). I feel guilty every time I pinch away the tiny little plant which has just sprung from the soil. Plants die, either through their natural cycle, or because something killed them. They rely on the nitty-gritty business of bees and wind to produce seeds, and they struggle through the soil around rocks and tiny creatures just waiting to devour them. The garden is a battleground of survival, but through it all is this miraculous and beautiful life, which is not only thriving, it’s exuberant in its existence. Life needs that struggle and the reality of sex and death to create the beauty within it. Terra cotta pots

4. It’s okay to be alone sometimes

It is good to be alone in a garden at dawn or dark so that all its shy presences may haunt you and possess you in a reverie of suspended thought.
– James Douglas, Down Shoe Lane

There are a few people who revel in aloneness, but there are many more of us who find it insufferable to be alone, in the quiet, with our own thoughts. The magic of the garden is that it somehow always feels okay to be out amidst the plants, sweating and pulling weeds, feeling the satisfaction and pride of a well-tended garden, absolutely alone. If you must choose between the meditation of sitting in a quiet room and the meditation of gardening, it’s far easier to empty your mind in the physical exertion of a garden than it is in the dark, sitting on the floor. And then, in the quiet of your mind surrounded by the noisy chaos of wind, bees, birds and crawly things, you will find that being alone is often good.

5. Every good thing requires hard work

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
by singing, “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade…
– Rudyard Kipling, ‘The Glory of the Garden’

First-time gardeners are surprised by the time it takes to make a good garden. There are anthropologists who argue that one of humanity’s biggest mistakes was to switch from hunter-gatherers to farmers, because it took up so much more of our day and our energy. We chose the life of agriculturalists because it produced a surplus – a way of creating some insurance for the future. Hard work is the secret ingredient for every good thing in life, especially really hard work. The harder you work at something, the better it will be.

6. Failure is the necessary stepping stone to success

A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.
– May Sarton

Every year in the garden is a circle of successes, and even more failures. Which variety of lettuce will do better in the heat? Why did I have so many cutworms? Why didn’t my carrots sprout? It’s an experiment that takes place over and over again to find the right formula, and often there isn’t one. What worked one year might not work the next.

A ‘successful’ garden is a misnomer: there is no such thing as 100% success in gardening. When you are dealing with nature, there are no guarantees. There is also not a single successful person who does not have a long story to tell about the extreme failures they experienced on the road to that success. If you were only able to take one skill to a deserted island, being able to fail well and learn from failure will be the secret to finding your way out.
Wildflowers

7. The unexpected can often be beautiful and magnificent

You can plan ahead but the unexpected will happen and it’s not always a bad thing. Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there.
– Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia

Just like our gardens, life is short, fraught with the unexpected, filled with failure and adversity, and never seems to go as we planned. It’s also magnificent in its beauty as we experience love and laughter, adventures, and the small joys that can fill us with sublime happiness.

Almost none of the happiest moments in life are planned – instead, it’s the spontaneity of life that is the most delightful part. Let us revel in the little things and find joy in the dirt!

Pin for later: 7 Life Lessons your Garden can Teach You

Author photo
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Nicole Faires is an urban farmer and best-selling author of books on sustainable agriculture and food policy. Originally from Montana, she now lives with her family on the West Coast. Find out more at http://deliberatelife.ca or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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  • A wonderful article, I’m glad you took this on, Nicole. Gardening is more than vegetables and flowers – we can take our life’s challenges to the garden and find helpful guidance if we look for it.

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