I love gardening because the slow, repetitive nature of its tasks encourages reflection. And the surround-sound of birds, insects, and relentlessness of weeds pushing themselves up through cracks in driveway and patio are humbling reminders of the limits of human control. Nature fills the senses, taking away the pressure of ego, freeing us to discover what works. And what works is definitely different here in my sixties, than it was in my forties.
Yesterday, I was weeding a big patch of lilies, and knew not to look beyond the square-foot of soil I'd lifted slightly with my spade-tip. That was this moment's area of operations, and I knew that looking beyond it would only make me despair at how far I had to go. In years past, I didn't know better than to survey the whole of any job, usually ending up going back indoors for a cup of coffee or even a nap from the sudden tiredness that overtook me.
Now I know to wade in fast, isolate a small section, and keep my eyes on the prize. Starting is everything; once you start, you've got a pattern, and that pattern makes for momentum, staying-power.
This way of working in the physical world influences my thinking as well. Planning to sketch out a few scenes is more conducive to sitting down at the computer than planning to write a book. Thinking of calling a dean of admissions for a program one of my students is interested in, is more motivating than thinking of finding my student a new career. And planning to put stray nails and screws in a jar gets me down the cellar stairs faster than resolving to clean the basement.
Besides breaking things down into parts, this year has brought a new acceptance of things as they are. A few years back I decided that bloom was beyond me. So I made a foliage garden, a landscape of texture and subtle shades of red and blue-green leaves that kept up its understated show all spring and summer.
But this spring the garden suddenly erupted in a plethora of foxglove seedlings, that must have been latent in the mulch I spread over layers of weed-barrier newspaper I bedded down the garden with last Fall. For the first time ever, I left the seedlings to grow, rather than weeding them out. I knew they'd change our garden, interrupt its design, but I was curious. So I left them in and we got a wonderful crescent of raspberry-colored and white foxgloves curving around one side of the garden. It was a glorious surprise, one I wouldn't have had in years past, when neatness and preserving established patterns was my focus.
Same with dandelions. I've always fought them, until this year. This spring I let them grow, bloom, and even go to seed. I don't know why, but I think I'm just tired. And old enough to know that it's easier to change myself than fight them. Now I'm looking for a book on making salads with dandelion greens. Anyone know one?