"I associate the garden with the whole experience of being alive,
and so, there is nothing in the range of human experience
that is separate from what the garden can signify
in its eagerness and its insistence,
and in its driving energy to live— to grow, to bear fruit."
Stanley Kunitz with Genine Lentine. The Wild Braid: a poet reflects on a century in the garden. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007.
So what have i learned from my garden?
I bought a beautiful plant. It lived a while but then it died.
I bought another one and planted it in a different place. Three years later, it’s glorious.
I started reading the plant tags. This one says, “full sun” and that one “part shade.” I realized … by watching this plant thrive and that plant grow weak…. that I didn’t really know what parts of my garden were most in sun or in shade.
I didn’t know that morning sun is different from afternoon sun.
I learned the Latin names of plants and that the original tulips were tiny and came from around the Black Sea. I began to have a feeling for what at least a few of my plants might need … this sort of soil, this sort of drainage, afternoon sun…..
What a world to explore. In just an ordinary garden, so many different individuals with different quirks and needs. And a web of relationships — the living soil, the rain, the sun. And those ungovernables: the sharp frost and no snow to protect the roots; the neighbour's dog.
How can one dahlia tuber that sits comfortably in the palm of my hand produce 6 foot tall stems and glowing flowers. It’s clear that the laws and forces that inspire the garden operate on a level over which I have no control. My good mind and my learning help a little in navigating this wonder, but its like having an old map, drawn by someone who only explored the edge of the territory.
I’m walking in this garden. If I think I know it, look again. It’s always changing. I’m interested. I keep watching.
Slugs: a shared experience
For gardeners, slug means stealth.
To trap the slimy wee beasties, my wife and I lay out boards between our rows of vegetables. The slugs crawl under them, sleepy & full after a night of slow savagery in the cabbages. We turn over the boards in the morning, quickly and humanely cut or slice the slugs in half, and dig their nutritious remains back into the soil.
We don't do this cavalierly; after all, every living thing serves some purpose and contributes to the common good— even slugs. They chew up decaying organic matter and their waste products add to the quality and quantity of humus in our garden soil. But their choice of food sources, namely our precious veggie seedlings, consigns them to failure in the survival of the fittest— or fastest, in this case.
Pity the poor slug. Oh, kind of.
One day while slug-hunting, we suddenly realized that these slimy little pests were actually performing a valuable service for us by giving up their bodies to the soil for the greater good of our garden; and we felt surprisingly grateful.
This feeling wasn't mixed with sentimental guilt (oh..., the poor, poor slugs): it felt meaningful, and for a moment we were still.
In fact, it's often surprising, but working in Nature works on us in small but elemental ways; and digging alongside the life in the earth, including the 'pests', can open us to other levels of relationship that aren't motivated by sentimentality, entitlement, greed or aggression.
So we still sacrifice the slugs in our garden. When we do, we feel apologetic and grateful most of the time if, of course, we're attentive, inhabiting the moment as much possible, not totally consumed by mental associations, day dreams and all kinds of tensions.
The whole process can be a set of rich moments of living in contact with the earth and its gifts.