Life Lessons from the Summer Garden

It’s perhaps not suprising that regular postings seem to fade across the gardening blogosphere this time of year; its the time of year that I wait for all winter, and then once it’s here, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  There’s so much happening in life and in the garden that it just doesn’t seem possible to keep up with the world, let alone with the virtual world!

But I finally have time to take a breath, and it’s time for a post.  I’ve spent much of the summer in contemplation of my life generally, and I’ve realized that my garden has much to teach me.  So here are the life lessons that I seem to be learning from the garden this year.

1.  Good support is essential!  You know how if we don’t learn a life lesson the easy way, then the universe gives us a chance to learn it again and again, each time a little more dramatically, until finally we get it already?!  Well the importance of good, strong, trellises are at the top of that list for me.  Last year I grew dwarf peas and bush tomatoes and believed the package that said they didn’t need trellising.  Hah!  This year I knew I needed trellises and strong supports of various kinds.  Unfortunately, just how strong is hard to remember in the early season when the plants look so tiny and decorative.  It’s not until June that the peas start to take down the twine and stakes entirely, or whole branches of tomatoes start to break off from the weight of the fruit, or pole beans sway gently lost at the top of the fence looking for higher ground that I remember just how powerful plants really are.

2.  Life is all about perception.  I have been continually amazed by this observation this summer.  One day I will go out and look at the garden and all I will see is life, diversity, and beauty.  The next day, a cloud passes by, and all I see are weeds and failures.  It’s the same garden!  Yep, it’s true.  Life is all in the mind. 🙂

3.  Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing to do.  I have had no issues with pests this year at all.  I ignored a few thistles in a raised bed of tomatoes, and to my surprise, the thistle acted as a trap plant and ended up covered in black aphids.  As the Skipper said, “Don’t weed that thistle!  Leave it right where it is!”  I saw some slug damage in the cool, wet, early summer, and did hand pick as many voracious baby slugs as I could.  But the plants were vulnerable as long as the weather was cool, and I knew it was just a matter of getting them through until the heat arrived.  Sure enough, as soon as the days were hot, the plants took off and the slugs disappeared.  I know I had some cabbage moth damage, especially because I planted too much cabbage and the heads sat in the garden.  But doing nothing about the moths meant the wasps could get to work enjoying the feast of moth larvae, and we already had more than enough cabbage to eat, so no worries.  In our large garden this year, we had clear sections that we were paying attention to, and other sections we are actively ignoring.  Although the neglect has meant for weeds and some plant losses, I’m also paying close attention to what plants are doing just fine without any attention at all.  More of those, please!

4.  Proper hydration–and a little protection from the elements–fosters healthy growth.  This year our irrigation system improved dramatically, and so did our results.  Predictable, regular watering from drip irrigation at the roots of plants made for huge crop success.  Where we were still relying on sprays, the results varied according to which blind spots weren’t getting hit by the sprinklers.  A little row cover as a simple protection worked wonders too–especially just to keep out all the beloved wild birds that love to dustbath and dig in a freshly planted bed.

5.  Always check your filters!  Good advice for the body, car, life, and now, irrigation systems!  We had been scratching our heads for two years about why our water pressure through the sprinkler and drip lines seemed so uneven.  Turns out the filter was beyond clogged.  Aha!

6.  Slow and Steady Wins the Race.  I have to admit, this is one of my favorite proverbs.  It was a saviour in high school gym class! 🙂  But, turns out it’s true for the garden, too.   As much guilt as I pile on myself some days about the LONG list of things that need doing outside, the reality is that the garden actually does better if I do small things on a regular basis.  I have found myself breaking up complex tasks more often this year.  Not just “transplant all the fall brassicas that need to get out of their seed trays STAT!” But instead: today I will pull out the plants that are coming out before the next crop goes in.  Tomorrow I will rake and compost and prepare the bed.  The next day I will plant the first section.  Then I will finish and set up the water.  Small-1/2 hour, unintimidating-steps means the jobs actually get done, and I spend less time paralyzed by despair. 🙂

If these lessons sound familiar, it’s because gardeners have been relearning them for years.  Or at least I know I’ve read them before in gardening books!  It’s like when I finally clued in that all garden books started by talking about improving your soil–because EVERYONE’s soil needs improving! But I’m one of those people who always seems to need to learn from scratch; prove things to myself.  Thank goodness I’ve got such a good teacher!


5 thoughts on “Life Lessons from the Summer Garden

    1. Without “next year” Farmers as a whole would have given up millenia ago. They are perennial optimists… Pun intended!

  1. Hi Toni,

    I’ve been having the same challenge. Not enough hours in the day. It’s been weeks since I posted to my blog (finally did so today) and I haven’t even been able to keep up with my blog reading.

    Great roundup of gardening/life tips!


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