Gardening on the farm was a haphazard affair in the first decade we lived here. The south garden had been used for various flowering plants, only the campanula has clung on these thirty years, tenacious as my lack of mindfulness. The patch north of the house was the vegetable garden put in by the original family who built this farmhouse. Roger was born the year it was built; 1923 is carved into the banister upstairs. He took over the farming from his father, married Blanche, and they had 15 children, 13 of whom lived to populate what was then a four bedroom, 800 square foot house. Blanche loved her vegetable garden and the lone peony she planted in the west lawn under the maple. It took us over twenty years to dig out the last of that peony.
Roger and Blanche sold to the next owners who upgraded the house, adding electricity and running water. Not much of a farmer, this fellow is best known in the mythology of the farm for the railway spike-sized nails he used in his “renovations.” I don’t recall much of what they did outdoors other than ruin a beautiful barn by using it as a run-in shed for his cattle. The two feet of manure over the 30 x 60-foot concrete floor took three summers to dig out and kept many of my plants fed for years.
Over the years, the various plots around the house have evolved. We turned the north garden plot into the rose garden. The south garden was a collection of ambulatory plants that grew, blossomed, and seeded themselves in new spaces each year. At one time, I grew a rock garden then a series of exotic species that likely only lived long enough for a gardening magazine photo shoot. Now it’s settled into a collection of plants that splash blues, yellows, and reds in sequence from Spring to Fall. About five years ago, the west side became a burst of sandcherries and barberries and the east a woodland garden filled with hosta and ferns. The Japanese garden went into the southeast space when the makeshift deck rotted away. The vegetable garden is now neatly boxed in north of the roses.
But this is just a timeline of seeds and flowers, fruit and feeding. There have been innumerable attempts behind each plant that survived the hard ground, droughts, heat, and through those attempts, I have learned many things. Some lessons are about planting and growing things, some about living and letting things die. Most of what I learned is that allowing self-seeding plants the run of my garden isn’t the same as giving them space in which to exert their freedom to blossom. The first encourages the bullying nature of some plants; the latter allows a respectful relationship with me and the others plants in its vicinity.
Gardening is about awareness and relationship – consequential relationship. It’s also about taking a stand, and standing by your principles. At the same time it’s about giving up control and learning from your mistakes.
from Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate by Wendy Johnson
Relationship is like that. Sitting at my desk, listening to the voice on the other end of the phone one dark afternoon, I understood that not having taken a stand, not establishing the perimeters and parameters of a relationship in its germination had created this choking, shame/blame tirade I was hearing. I wondered as I listened carefully if I was allowing the bullying to continue or if I was bearing witness to the suffering that had been generated through unknowable causes and conditions.
Practice is like that too. Is sitting with the overwhelming suffering that arises masochistic or is it a moment of respectful silence in which the real roots can be uncovered and the plant uprooted?
Thank you for practicing,