gardening

The important lessons that gardening has taught me about getting through life

Sometimes, life is just shit. There is no other way to say it. It’s just shit. And let’s face it, a lot of the time, life is shit because people are shit. We are. We are all at times, just shit. Shit to ourselves, shit to others, shit to the world around us. Shit.

*Warning,  in case you haven’t noticed already, this post contains swearing, vague philosophical ramblings, some pessimism and some questionable theories on the nature of humanity. Don’t worry though, I never do these things without good reason. Read on*

Something incredible happened to me today. Something that taught me about the nature of the world around me, the nature of plants and wildlife and the environment I live in. Something small, something huge, something that shifted my whole perspective on a difficult situation. A lesson in getting through the tough times.

Let me set the scene. Many of you know I had a bad year last year in many ways. Well, I say bad, it was in fact, a year littered with the most wonderful things that have ever happened to me. But in terms of my health, my garden and my heart for the garden, I had a very tough year. My plot bore the brunt of everything that happened in the rest of my life. I didn’t really bother much with it, not as much as I should have. I let it go to ruin.

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It’s in an absolute heap

I made bad choices. I invested my energy in to the wrong things when I should have reserved it for my garden. It only served to hurt my garden and myself in the long run.

I’ve written at length about not knowing how to begin again. How to start over and why the hell I should bother. I’ve been looking around my plot with despair, and sadness and with a sort of veiled apathy. Why the fuck should I care about it anymore? Why don’t I just forget about it and move on?

But of course, because it is the blood in my veins, the air in my lungs and an intrinsic part of the very nature of who I am; I can not just give this up. It is part of my identity. It is the love of my life.

So, today I decided to give it another shot. To maybe just try one more time to get it back to its former glory. Or better still, to take all the lessons it had taught me, and use them to tear it all the fuck down and begin all over again.

So, I have begun again. I spent two hours just beginning to pick up the pieces. I’ve begun to throw away the dead plants, the old plants, the old bits of wood, the twigs, the crap. I’ve begun to clean up my act.

gardening

You’ve got to be willing to get seriously dirty if you want to clean up your act though

And when I stood in my garden today and looked around, among all the litter and chaos and destruction, I found something that made my heart skip a beat. I found a patch of crocuses that I planted three years ago that never grew before, and they were in full, glorious, delicate bloom.

Despite the snow storm, despite the neglect, despite the fact that I had never tended to them. Despite everything and against all the odds, there they were.  And I nearly fucking wept. Not just because I’m a sap with too many feelings, but because I realised once again, that the greatest lessons we can learn about ourselves, we learn from nature. That we too can weather the storms. Plants and wildlife and the natural world has more to teach us about ourselves than we will ever know.gardening

So, in an effort to quantify this somehow in a blog post –  I’m attempting to marry the huge wonders of nature with some small words on a screen – I’m going to try to explain a few life lessons that my garden has taught me. Maybe it will help you if you are, like me, going through a rough patch. I’ve been thinking about all the amazing things that plants can teach us about ourselves and how to take those lessons and turn them to gold. How to fucking bloom.

Nature simply doesn’t give a shit about you

Sounds pessimistic right? It’s not. This is one I’ve written about before and it never fails to cheer me up. Seriously, just think about it. Plants and wildlife are incredibly apathetic to anything else around them except their own survival. They don’t care about you, they don’t care if you’re fat, thin, an asshole, a saint, gorgeous, ugly, a fuck up, a success, they don’t care if you’re a shit person or a good one.

And this realisation can turn your understanding of yourself and your place in the world on its head entirely.

Think about it this way, you can literally be anything, or anybody or act any way, and you will still exist. When you are a gardener, or simply out there in nature, your personality, your mistakes, the things that you don’t like about yourself, the things you love about yourself, there is no place for them. None. You are simply part of something bigger than yourself. You can just be an organism, of little or no consequence. In a garden you are absolved of all your shit and (perhaps even better) everyone else’s too.

Enjoy!

You have a responsibility to the world around you and the world you build

All that being said, every thing you do impacts the world around you. Everything.

If you don’t look after your garden, it will not thrive. You can’t expect to put nothing in to something and then expect to get anything worthwhile out of it. Plants and nature will always be there, but if you are the one who planted the seed, you are the one who should tend to its needs.gardening

I’m sure you’ve planted something before and kind of forgotten to take care of it properly. You thought to yourself “ah sure look, it’ll be fine, it won’t be the end of the world if it dies”.

No, it won’t, but you kind of made its existence pointless now didn’t you?

Gardens are amazing spaces and we are their curators. We have a responsibility to the plants and the wildlife in them. We have a responsibility to how we treat everything and everyone in our lives too.

In essence,  don’t be a dick.

Only plant what you want to grow

Right, this is a pretty basic one. But, why bother planting peas if you don’t want peas? Why the hell would you put all that time and effort and love into something you have zero intention to actually use?

Think about that. Same goes for jobs, friendships, relationships, hobbies, your fucking dinner, the clothes you buy. Stop chasing things you don’t actually want.

Mistakes are just mistakes

How many times have I written that I do not believe that there are mistakes in a garden? Well, I lied. Of course there are. You will spend your life in a garden making mistakes. But here is the difference between how you may feel about those mistakes and how those mistakes actually impact or hurt your garden.

Much like in the rest of your life, you will beat yourself up for your mistakes in your garden, you will. You will beat yourself up for your mistakes in life. You’ll ruminate on them, be sad about them, blame yourself. But here is the wonderful thing gardens teach us about mistakes: they can’t be undone so make your peace with them and move the fuck on.  Self blame in a garden is pointless. You know why? Because it doesn’t change or fix anything. Accidentally kill a plant by not watering it? Well just learn from it and water the next one. Did your tomatoes die because you had them in the wrong environment? Well, they’re dead. End of. You won’t bring them back to life.

Yes, you fucked up. Yes, it sucked. But yes, you have a chance to make it better.

Don’t equate mistakes to failure. If you do that, you will lose hope and simply stop trying. In a garden and in life.

Plants don’t waste their time on shit that doesn’t make them better

Plants and wildlife spend their lifetimes searching for things that make them a success. Things that make them thrive. Plants don’t waste time on things that they don’t need. Plants only have use for things that sustain them. Water, and nutrients and light and pollinators. Things that make them live and grow.

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You don’t see these guys sitting around feeling sorry for themselves

People tend to do the opposite. We stew in guilt and resentment and sorrow. We let shame and regret eat us alive. We waste our time on things that don’t sustain us. We hurt ourselves in the long run. If you spend your life on things that do not sustain you, you will literally die.

Bleak? Nope, that right there is the opposite of bleak folks that right there opens up space for hope.

Which brings me nicely to..

Gardening teaches you to hope

Have you ever sown a seed and not wanted it to grow?

Enough said.

Gardening teaches you to be patient

Gardening teaches you to breathe. To take a step back. Because no matter how much work you do, everything takes time to come to fruition. You’re not just going to plant a seed and poof, two seconds later have an apple.

Sometimes, you just have to wait and trust that the world has you right where you need to be.

Being buried doesn’t mean you’re dead

And maybe the most important lesson of all, gardening has taught me that you can quite literally be up to your neck in dirt and turn it all around. You can be so deep under all the crap and mud that life slings at you that it seems like there’s no fucking way out.

But what happens when you let in the things that will help you grow out of it? What happens when you just let in water? Or warmth? Or hope, or love, or forgiveness or trust or patience or self belief?

Your life can be a grave or a garden.

It can bury you. Or it can plant you.

It’s up to you to decide.

Bounty

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It has been a number of months since my last blog post. Summer has been and gone, the weather has changed and my life has changed along with it.

It has been the hottest summer here in Ireland for over a decade. The days have been long hot and the nights humid and sleepless. I’ve seen more scantily clad, sunburnt bodies than I care to remember. I’ve been to barbecues and beer gardens, birthday parties and Boston and it’s safe to say that I will never forget this summer for as long as I live.

My poor allotment bore the brunt of my hectic life the past few months, with everything else I’ve had going on, it faded in to the background. That’s not to say however, that nothing has grown or that it doesn’t continue to thrive.

It has been a summer of rhubarb, non stop rhubarb, mountains of it, jars of it, bowls and bowls and bowls of it smothered in custard and vanilla ice cream.

Shallots

Shallots

I’ve harvested giant beetroots and impressive red onions, pitiful garlic and beautiful pink shallots, red and green lettuces, raspberries and strawberries and every little thing tasted as sweet as only food you grow yourself can taste.

I’ve visited other community gardens, some here in Dublin, some across the water in Boston, and enjoyed the inspiration I found in the ingenuity and creativity of fellow gardeners.

Squash Cage gate in community garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Squash gate in a community garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts

My parents plot with it's lovely neat grass pathway

My parents plot with its lovely neat grass pathway and red clover

I’ve sold some plot grown veggies on a stall at a summer festival.

I’ve had the pleasure of tasting huge courgettes roasted on a barbeque in a sun soaked walled garden surrounded by friends and family.

I’ve seen a beehive up close and personal and I witnessed the workers tend to the queen, among their combs of wax and honey.

Queen and workers

Queen and workers

I’ve had the pleasure of spending an hour on my plot with a pheasant, who pecked around my herb garden while I pulled weeds on the other side of the plot. She would stop every now and then to eye me suspiciously, then carry on about her business.

I’ve witnessed my dad become a rhubarb and ginger jam making machine.

Yum

Yum

I’ve cursed the loss of my snowball onions to mildew and rot and lamented the complete failure of my garlic.

I’ve taken a swig of a can of fizzy orange and felt something furry crawling around my tongue. It was a wasp. The absolute terror.

I’ve learned that no matter what happens, even if you abandon your garden for a while, even if your world as you know it ends up on the compost heap, that life goes on and you will always get from a garden more than you put into it. I may have been away for a while but my plot is as productive as ever and now, here I am, in the heart of harvest season; I’ve done less in my garden this summer than ever before and it still provides great bounty.

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I have many plans for the plot over the coming months so it’s time to get back to basics, do some digging, some weeding and tidy the place up. I’ve planted a bed of winter salads, pak choi and red mustard, I plan on getting some kale in too and some spring cabbages for overwintering. Before we know it, it’ll be winter and I’ll be munching on my parsnips and my jerusalem artichokes but for now I hope to enjoy what’s left of this long, long, long, hot summer.