Nurturing Ourselves, Nurturing Our Garden
“Gardening teaches us that we cannot always have our own way and yet allows us to feel good about that reality.” (Lewis, Charles. A. Green Nature/Human Nature)
When we pick up a quart of strawberries at the store or the farmer’s market, we go home and wash them and feel frustrated or thwarted if some of the berries aren’t edible. We expect that we will get what we want - which is a quart of delicious, perfect strawberries, exactly like when we buy a pack of Bic pens, we expect them all to work the same way that our last pack of Bic pens worked.
When my girls and I pick a quart of strawberries out of our garden, we are delighted and amazed by the perfect ones that we find. We’re astonished by the sweetness. We set the rotten or bitten ones aside for compost or the chickens. We accept that we can’t have our own way - every single strawberry will not be edible - and yet we still feel really good about our reality.
Having learned this through gardening, we have tolerated disappointment that isn’t crushing. We’re rewarded for learning this lesson with the sweet taste of strawberries, the looseness of our muscles, the warmth of the sun on our bodies, the sounds of the outside and a feeling of reward and relaxation.
Another “not having our own way” lesson that the garden teaches us is that of loss. Inevitably, plants die. Worms die. Bees die. Butterflies die. If we spend time in the garden, we experience life, growth and death. Our wish would be to have the beautiful butterfly forever, just as she is now, but she dies. The gentle way that this lesson is learned - surrounded by the comforting growth of the garden, reassured by the ongoing life around us - helps us to feel joy in our reality in spite of the sadness of loss. One prized plant is chewed by moles while another unexpected plant grows and delights us.
We may expect ourselves to be perfect. We feel that everything we do must succeed. The process of being with plants in the role of nurturer and caretaker helps us to practice letting go of perfectionism. We may water and weed and a plant still dies. We may prepare the bed and prune the tomatoes and yet we get no fruit. We come to understand that even doing things perfectly may not prevent failure. We learn that we are not in complete control. Because the garden holds so many other rewards, we are able to accept the reality of imperfection. Also, it’s hard to hold a grudge against a plant, or decide that the plant “had it out for us” or that the plant didn’t think we were “good enough.” Instead, the plant takes what we offer without judgment and thrives or fails in part due to us and in part due to other factors. We become one element in a complex system.
All of those experiences we share in the garden bolsters our self esteem and soothes our nervous systems. We become more optimistic and resilient. We learn to value our strong bodies and the health of the environment. By nurturing our garden, we nurture ourselves