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The Zen of Gardening April 13, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Gardening, Hobbies.
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Growing up, my gardening experience was limited to weeding one very small strawberry patch, which was also our dog Holly’s favorite pooping spot.  To this day, I always wash strawberries one more time – just in case.

In the suburbs, people didn’t actually garden as they were too busy slavishly maintaining The Lawn.  One of my enduring memories is of driving past our neighbor’s house and seeing him sitting out in the front yard after dinner every night with a bucket, methodically digging up dandelions. Night…after night… after night.  What a monumental waste of time, I thought.  You go to work all day in a cubicle (though cubicles had yet to be invented and popularized by Dilbert) and come home to THIS.  But I was young, so what did I know?

In 1996, we bought our first house and the pipeline of “Better Homes & Gardens” began flowing (Thanks Mom).  I realized that I actually liked getting my hands dirty and watching the bugs and worms scuttle off when I overturned a rock. (See Bugs Don’t Bug Me.)  Rabid do-it-yourselfers, my husband and I broke out the concrete patio, then meticulously reset the broken pieces of concrete in a bed of mortar with a scattering of polished black stream stones.

In the middle of our new and improved patio, we planted two queen palm trees inside a 3-foot high circular concrete planter.  My husband and I personally hand-mixed 42 bags of concrete to pull this off in a day (with only one emergency trip to Home Depot to buy MORE concrete). When I look at the planter now, the only logical explanation for undertaking such a project is demonic possession.

We planted a variety of plants around the base of the palms.  Strawberries for our pig (above dog pooping level), some bulbs, a succulent, and ivy so it cascades over the top of the planter, which is outlined in bricks.

One night my husband noticed I was hovering over the planter, which I’d come to do more often than not. Night…after night…after night.  I fussed over every incursion by a weed and meticulously clipped away any leaf that dared to go brown on the tip.  What was happening to me?

I’d started teaching, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that my first three years of teaching, I had horrible classes.  Horrible.  I’d often come home feeling overwhelmed and then have to start calling parents about what their little darling had done that day.  It was incredibly stressful.

That’s when it hit me.  So much of my life was out of control, and the one thing I felt I could control was a little patch of dirt.  Suddenly, my heart went out for that neighbor from my childhood.  After a day at a mind numbing job, he was out picking dandelions most likely for the same reason I was hovering over my “garden” with manicure scissors.  To keep his sanity. To keep his head from exploding a la Scanners.

What better place to clear your head, but in the garden, where you can lapse into the rhythms of nature and use your hands to do something besides double click.  I can’t think of anything more zen than whiling away quality time in the garden, allowing your soul to feast on the beauty of the natural world.

I’m feeling settled as a teacher these days, and my newfound serendipity shows in my gardening, which is sporadic and in spurts. My husband likes to say there’s nothing I like better to do than sit out in the dirt.  It’s true, I’ve no need for those high tech knee pads, as I just plunk myself down and get to work.  I’m a Taurus and that IS an earth sign.  I wonder.

Not long ago, my husband wandered out back looking for me.  Not seeing me, he stood still for a moment until he could hear me.  I was sitting in the dirt behind a giant perennial, pruning.  Clip.  Clip.  Clip.  My jeans were encrusted with dirt, as was my face.  He took in the view. “You know, back in the pioneer days,” he said, “If you’d been kidnapped by Indians, you would have SO gone native.”

You know, I think that’s one of the nicest compliments my husband has ever paid me.


1. Catherine Sherman - April 13, 2009

I’ve seen your garden and yard, and it’s all beautiful, and even more so than you say here. I love to garden, too, and wish it would some day be warm so I didn’t have to wear mittens and a ski parka to dig around. It’s one of the few times I can really lose myself and empty my head. (No smart remarks about my empty head!) I’m letting a lot of my yard go natural, though, and just focusing on a few areas that I might be able to keep looking reasonably orderly. I used to have large flower gardens that were like living paintings, but I don’t do that any more….

Catherine – I happen to think it’s wonderful to have an empty head so that it can be filled with new ideas and thoughts. We’ve put in lots of native plants, but I’m still amazed at how much work it takes to make a garden look “natural.” Jan


2. ES - April 14, 2009

You can garden for me because the only thing that is doing well here is the 30+ year old rose bush. My secret? Coffee grounds.

May I take the opportunity to say congrats to you on nearly 20,000 hits? I know that I will blink and the exact number will be past, so I’d better give you a hands clapping now…sorry I don’t know the texting for that.

Elisse – Thanks for the round of applause. My secret? Coffee grounds. Jan


3. Bev from england - April 15, 2009

ahhhhhhhhh i love nothing more than working in my garden… been hard at it today and its v satisfying !

u must send me more pics of your garden jan cos id soooo love to see it all …pretty please? 🙂


Bev – Alright, but only because you asked nicely. (Now I’ve got to go take some pictures.) Jan


4. janelleholden - April 15, 2009

Hmm … my husband (a teacher) just spent several hours digging up dandelions in the backyard this weekend. I told him we should just harvest them and make dandelion wine and salads this spring but he refused. Maybe he just needed some good ol’ Zen gardening to help him forget the drama of teaching middle school.

Janelle – Middle school! I did a 6-week-long sub job there – ONCE. And I got to teach Sex Ed too. I’m writing a post about THAT experience. To forget the drama of middle school, I’d need earth moving machinery so I could push something around after a long day in the trenches. My hat’s off to your husband. Jan


5. moxey - April 16, 2009

Fourteen years ago, my grandmother was living out the last four months of her life in a nursing home. I was a newlywed of little more than one year, and our apartment was on the second floor of a Victorian-era home. Down below, there was a pitiful garden, pressed snugly up against the side wall of an ancient garage.

The two little old ladies who lived on the main floor of the home watched me from behind their lace curtains while I dug and pulled and weeded and planted and trimmed. Once I had that small plot whipped into shape, I took on another task — redigging the 20-foot long bed of irises that ran alongside the driveway. The bindweed had just about taken over, but I teased the rhizomes out and divided them and replanted. Then, at the entrance to our apartment, I dug a small bed, lined it with broken bricks, and planted herbs.

I lost my grandmother in June of that year. Those four months spent digging and planting and setting things right kept me sane. And when my mother and I held a garage sale to part with the last of her possessions a year later, the irises were in full, heady bloom.

Moxey – What a lovely memory (and beautifully written) comment. I’m so glad that you, too, GET it. Jan


6. rebecca - April 21, 2009

Jan.. you’ve inspired me. I’m going to write about the start of my vegetable garden on my blog since your post really made me think about my gardening experiences!

Rebecca – Gardening can be the cure for whatever ails you. It’s so not high tech, which is a good thing. It’s not like people twitter about their gardens! Best of luck with your vegetables. My husband, Richard, is the vegetable gardener/producer. I’m just the consumer. Jan


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