Sunday, May 14, 2006


Gardening is the ideal mentor for those who might think themselves no longer in need of one. When you're young and urgent, when your aims are racy and you expect the soil to act like time, do your bidding rapidly and unattended (hurry up and grow!), you're still too fast to get the lesson.

Soil is ancient, been around forever, knows its tasks, works at its own pace. So as you age, if you've gardened enough, the garden has slowed you down to the point at which you can learn from it. You begin to act at garden speed. You can then perceive the year-round instruction, and learn to pay attention. The only fee.

When I went out early this morning to prepare the basil beds, on the way - as I often do - I wound up going off on a tangent to attend to a more immediate task, in this case deadheading the daffodils, which had already put too much of their energy into making seeds. That led to my deciding to deadhead everything around the house while I was at it, so as to ensure a good blooming next year.

Singular repetitive garden tasks are a great meditation. I can always use a great meditation, and this was not wanting. As I went around pinching off the new seedpods with their crisp scarves of withered petals, I got to thinking that because we humans tend to blossom year round, the need for occasional deadheading is not so obvious, especially to ourselves. But others can often sense the need for a fresh blossom atop our shoulders.

When at last I began preparing the basil bed I realized that, instead of racing through the task as I used to do, impatient to get to the basil part, I had learned at last to enjoy the pre-basil part, having seen enough summers of basil to know that it cares, and will respond sensitively to what I am doing now. It will show offense at shoddy treatment; basil can sense these things. So now I hunker down and take my time weeding and rooting, getting out pebbles, breaking up clods, mineralizing, and finally tilling carefully.

We are the same way in the gardens of ourselves, if treated poorly over the seasons...


Tabor said...

I have a perennial garden book, packed away somewhere, and I remember in the introduction a statement (something like ) a good perennial garden takes 15 to 30 years to get right.

Joy Des Jardins said...

I'm not a gardener; although I've always admired people who get down into the soil and produce all these amazing gardens...whether it be vegetables or flowers. I really do appreciate beautiful gardens, and I am a huge "flower-lover." That's why I love reading your posts Robert. I've learned so much through your pieces...about gardening...and life. Thanks for the education.