There’s a reason I post about gardening here pretty often in summer, and it’s not that I’m good at it, though it occurs to me that I may give the impression that I am because I tend to tell the success stories.
The truth is, I post about gardening because I’m fumbling my way through, learning as I go, taking risks, and I’m thrilled when something actually grows. If it flourishes? That wonder probably warrants two blog posts!
But there have been failures, too.
Months ago, I posted about the tomato plants I started from seed. I was so excited as they broke the soil and began to stretch upward. When they were a couple of inches tall and the days had grown warm, I decided it was time to let the little plants get some sunshine to help sturdy up their lanky legs.
I set them in the light and left them to soak it up to their little hearts’ content.
When I retrieved their tiny pot hours later, the small plants had turned from bright green to translucent yellow. The sun had baked them through, and not one survived.
Nothing like murdering a baby plant you’d spent weeks tending.
Going a little further back, at our last house, much of the backyard was dominated by a black walnut tree. Though I chose a sunny spot for my vegetable garden, very little grew because particles that wash off a black walnut tree stunt the growth of many other plants. My watermelon plant that year produced one, two-inch round melon. When it was clear it wouldn’t develop any further, I cut it open hoping that it was the world’s cutest little watermelon, but it was green all the way through.
Probably my worst plant kill? I had a cactus. I watered it so little that it started to die, so I decided to water it a lot to try to save it. But then it started to turn yellow. I must’ve had it outside or something, because the soil was wet (maybe from rain?) when I noticed it yellowing.
This is going to sound terrible, but I thought I ought to dry the soil out a bit, so I placed it in a warm spot. Figuring it was a cactus, I thought it could handle a little heat. I put it on top of the oven–not in it, not on a burner, but in the same spot my mom puts the dinner rolls to keep them warm while the turkey cooks, you know?
Well, it wasn’t long before that cactus was one cooked turkey.
Even now, a few plants are on the premises that may or may not make it.
As I was smiling to myself over my garden failures, it occurred to me that despite them, I still enjoy trying.
This is not how I operate. Not in other areas of life. Smile over a spectacular failure? Um, no.
So what is it about my gardening mentality that makes it so enjoyable win or lose, and can I please, please apply it to other things I’m trying to grow–like my dreams?
1. Waiting is part of the game. Using the right planting materials and some Miracle-Gro might speed things along a bit–or result in a bigger bang for my buck–but with little variation, the game goes like this: poke a seed into the dirt, water it, and wait. And wait. Eventually, I’ve been waiting so long, I’ve started to forget to watch. I’ve accepted the wait instead of second-guessing myself or railing against what I can’t change.
What if instead of allowing doubt to creep in or thinking of giving up because of a long wait toward a realized dream, we treated these dreams a little bit more like seeds we’ve pressed into the land we live on? Let’s not sell the house to get away from it. Let’s remember we were warned to expect a wait. Let’s keep watering faithfully, and trust that the wait is an important part of the process and it will one day end.
2. Diversification means more blooms. There are flowerbeds all over my yard, and it’s going to take a lot of plants to fill them. And there are plants that come at different times and produce different products. So, I plant cucumbers and dahlias. I plant peonies for spring and mums for fall (side note: I don’t think the mums made it either…).
In my non-gardening life, I like to write novels. I get a little carried away with it sometimes, and a novel takes a long time to bloom. If that’s all I’m pouring my energy into, then I’m less likely to see things like relationships, my dogs’ behavior, my spiritual life, or even a meal at dinnertime bloom in the meantime. Lately, however, I’ve been more careful to invest in relationships, read, and make a few meals. And honestly? I’ve been a lot happier.
3. I’m not in control (and I know it). Plants depend on a lot of things–sunlight, rain, soil, nutrients–and are vulnerable to a number of threats–weeds, insects, bacteria and rot, and (in the case of the cactus) human negligence. I don’t have the knowledge or power to provide for and protect a plant from all of it. And there’s no way that I could somehow build a plant on my own. I do the best I can and trust God and His design to be the ultimate grower.
If I can’t build a plant, how much less can I build a writing career or a different dream-come-true? Jesus is the ultimate grower of all things, and all things grow best when I trust Him.
4. I practice faith in small beginnings. I don’t look at a seed and consider a plant coming from it impossible. Gardening is a practice in hope and faith. Every plant I buy or try to start is an act of hope and faith. Every time I water a seed that hasn’t yet produced a seedling, it’s an act of hope and faith. I’m not treating it the way I do because of what it is but because of what it will someday become.
If my coffee post didn’t convince you, I’ll say it again: I like to skip steps. I like quick and successful and painless. But when we have a dream–as big as it may be–it starts with a small beginning. To care for it correctly–to care for it at all, in fact–we must look at it through eyes of faith and hope, believing in possibility long before it becomes reality. If we don’t, we’ll neglect it and it’ll shrivel faster than a young, previously shaded tomato seedling exposed to full sun.
5. I celebrate the little things. A plant doesn’t have to bloom to inspire me to drag my husband over so I can rave about its progress. (Though I think he’s rarely as impressed as I am, he’s a good sport about it.) Like finding just a week or two after I’d killed my tomato seedlings that I had a small forest of self-seeded tomatoes growing outside where I’d had a plant last year.
Think of how happy my life would be if I got excited over little things in all areas? My dog stays put on his bed while we have company over? Time to celebrate. I get a very nice writing rejection instead of a form one? Let’s party!
6. Failure is an option. Because some of my efforts result in over-zealous cucumber plants and some in roasted cactus, I know I can’t take plants (or my gardening skills) that seriously. In this one area of life, it seems I’m willing to risk spectacular failure. If they die, I learn something and move on. I replace them. I try something different the next year. Eventually, I publish the tales on the Internet.
We don’t know what in life is going to turn out when we first start an endeavor. In fact, even when something’s well-established, we don’t know when God will say, “That’s enough. I’m doing something new.” (Have I told you about the gigantic, old jade plant the squirrels ate? Another spectacular fail.) What if we determined now to give it our best, let God have His way, and learn from whatever happens? It sounds cheesy when we hear people review our performance and talk about our “opportunities” when we know what they really mean is “faults and failures.” And yet. What if we really did stop looking at failure as failure and started looking at it as opportunity? Opportunity to try something new. Opportunity to learn. Opportunity to get out of a rut or a crippling comfort zone.
The funny thing is, this isn’t even the gardening post I set out to write. So I guess more are in store.
But for now, the more I can go about growing dreams the same way I grow plants, the more celebratory, positive, and fruitful those efforts will be.
I know I’m not the only one who’s learned a lot from a plant. What–besides flowers and vegetables–have you gotten out of your garden?