Life Lessons From My Mystery Garden
Or why a failed garden is not a failure after all 🌿
When I came to the country in 2020, I was determined to grow my food. Well, some of it, at least. Mostly vegetables.
I didn't grow up in a household that did this - I was a child of the 50s in Detroit and don't remember much vegetable gardening going on. Iceberg lettuce, canned corn, peas and carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes are what I remember.
In my mother's defense, I was a super picky eater. "You ate like a bird," she once told me.
When I was married and raising a family of my own, my garden consisted mainly of flowers. I knew nothing of herbs or the power of edible medicinal so-called "weeds" like Dandelion, Clover, and Purslane, to name a few. However, I made baby food from freshly cooked fruit and vegetables for my little ones and was pretty impressed with myself for doing that.
In the spring of 2021, on the advice of a friend (a seasoned gardener), I dug a plot that would be my first ever vegetable garden. It was 25' x 25' and seemed enormous, but my friend assured me it was not. It sits on flat land at the base of a hill that gets a full day of sun. It's also near the entrance to the woods.
I had a load of compost delivered, and as I stared at the huge pile waiting to be shoveled and raked, I was already in a state of overwhelm.
I started too late. The seedlings I grew didn't fare well, so I ended up buying plants from the nursery. Put me in a nursery, and the artist takes over - the beauty of it all is just too much to resist. There was no rhyme or reason to my buying and planting because, to be honest, that's how I've rolled my entire life.
I bought gardening books and watched some YouTube videos. And then I ignored all of the advice and just planted everything helter-skelter.
Life Lesson #1: Acceptance. My garden isn't perfect, and neither am I. An astrologer once told me I didn't come into this lifetime to be organized. Hearing that alone was worth the cost of the session because it has been my bane my entire life.
Last summer, it was a helter-skelter garden, with a groundhog absconding with the broccoli and cabbage. The tomatoes fared pretty well, and although another friend was kind enough to give me a canning tutorial, I again started feeling overwhelmed. So, instead, I froze them on a cookie sheet until they felt like billiard balls, bagged them, and kept them in the freezer. They lasted me all winter.
I couldn't wait to dig everything up after the frost, throw it in the compost, and lay the garden to rest. Winter couldn't come fast enough.
It should have been a giant clue this spring when I would look out at the barren plot and not feel one iota of excitement. After staring at the empty ground for weeks, I finally had compost delivered and started the process all over again.
Life Lesson #2: Pay attention to how something makes you feel in your body. For all the years I’ve practiced energy healing, you would think I'd have this down pat. Reflecting on when I used to plant flower gardens, I would feel overwhelmed in the spring and relieved in the fall. There was little joy in the process, although, of course, I loved the beauty of it all.
I'm sure I'm not alone here, and I guess that, from an Ayurvedic perspective, many other Vata-types feel the same way. We are generally more creative than organized and can quickly become anxious and overwhelmed.
Looking out at my Mystery Garden, she IS a Vata garden. Chaotic and irregular, but an original, to be sure.
I'll admit that murmurings of upcoming food shortages lingered in the back of my mind and nudged me to try again. This year, the only vegetables that made it into the ground were five tomato plants and two rows of potatoes I planted from a bag of sprouted organic potatoes. Who knew you could do that? They grew into plants, and I'm told I can dig them up when the green plant has withered and died. Where I'm going to store them is another matter. Good thing I love potatoes. Irish, Scottish, and Polish roots here. We love our potatoes.
One day I took some packets of wildflower seeds and scattered them in the garden. No plan whatsoever. As if there weren't enough wildflowers where I live.
If you read my intro newsletter here on Substack, you'll know about the sudden appearance of Quaking Poplar saplings in my garden. That was a shocker—a beautiful significant surprise. But I knew they couldn't stay there. Although, in retrospect, if I had left them, I soon would have had a Poplar grove in my backyard and a good excuse not to have a vegetable garden. In the end, they were all relocated.
Soon I saw Purslane carpeting the garden floor, and I was thrilled about that. She's delicious and nutritious, and this year I was prepared and made a tincture from her rubbery leaves.
The Yarrow in the center was thriving and busting out of the stone circle I'd made for her. I let her be because she's the Queen, after all.
Lamb's Quarter showed up - another nutritious green that mostly gets weeded out by people. And then, in mid-summer, I started noticing an abundance of a plant I didn't recognize. It turned out it was Amaranth. Also, I learned that the leaves and the seeds are both highly nutritious. I’ve been throwing the leaves into everything - soup, salad, rice, you name it. And, I should have an abundance of seeds later in the fall.
Last night before bed, while reading Robin Rose Bennett's book "Healing Magic", I turned the page and saw - "More Magical Properties of Selected Plants and Trees." Guess what was first on the list? Amaranth!
"Amaranth leaves and seeds – sacred sustenance, spiritual awareness in daily life."
Another synchronicity, another message from the plant world.
Just a note - the Amaranth completely took over the garden, and some plants are approaching 7-8 feet tall!
Life Lesson #3 - Unexpected blessings may appear. Instead of calling myself disorganized and a bad planner, I realized that going with the flow, throwing caution to the wind, and flying by the seat of my pants, had ended up with some good surprises.
But, here's the part where I want to blame someone or something else for not having a better garden and why I couldn't spend barefoot hours weeding and harvesting, soaking up Vitamin D, and being one with Nature.
It was all THE BUGS' fault.
Last year the ticks were relentless. My vision of barefoot gardening/grounding was a no Bueno because of them. And if I stood still for more than a few seconds, the black flies were on me like you know what.
There's a word for it here in New England. Well, two words. It's called Bug Season, and it's no joke. I'm not going to whine too much about it here because, to be honest, I got tired of hearing myself complain.
Thankfully, the ticks were mainly MIA this year because I found someone to mow a section of the land around my house. Ticks like tall grass. Having the meadow right up to the house was beautiful but having ticks laying in wait for me was disconcerting.
This year it was the deer flies. They especially liked to swarm and gnaw on me when I tried to weed or water the garden. I guess I'm living in a prime deer fly zone. I'm right on the edge of the woods and live across the road from a swampy Nature preserve.
If you think I'm overreacting, these are not like mosquito bites. They're vicious and can become long-lasting itching welts.
Maybe they were just out for some ex-city blood; I don't know.
They finally went away in mid-August to wherever they go after Bug Season. So, from April - mid-August, at least where I live, it's a bug warzone outside. I’m pretty sure they don't mention that in the New Hampshire travel brochures.
One day, I was so frustrated at not being able to be outside that I decided I was going to meditate on the deer fly. Seriously. Why? I wanted to know. Why are you so relentless? But before I could do that, as I was washing dishes, I heard the little voice say, "It's just Nature. It's not personal. The deer fly is just doing what it does to survive."
Well, this made me laugh, and honestly, my whole perspective shifted.
Life Lesson #4 - Surrender (and don't take things personally)
I had tried everything. A bug suit (it kept the ticks out but the flies bit right through it and when it's hot and humid, forget it.) All kinds of non-toxic bug repellants. Even my beloved Yarrow, which naturally keeps bugs away, was overwhelmed and, dare I say, ineffective.
So, I surrendered. I tried to get out early before it got hot, wearing long sleeves, pants, and a hat to water my Mystery Garden. Twice, the deer flies bit right through my gardening gloves. I stopped thinking and talking about them and focused on the fact that one day, they would be gone.
And they are. The remaining mosquitos are a piece of cake compared to those monsters. My heart truly goes out to the cows and horses and other animals who have to endure them day after day.
The truth is, I love going to the farmer's market every Saturday. We're fortunate to have one open for all but a couple of months in the winter. I've gotten to know several of the farmers and love to support them. I had respect for farmers before, but reflecting on my experience makes me love and appreciate them even more.
It can take me weeks to use up a head of cabbage. I love vegetables, but one person can only eat so many. The amount I spent on the compost alone would probably have paid for my farmer's market vegetables for the whole season.
Not that this was about money. I truly wanted to have my hands in the soil. Care for the plants. Watch them grow. Be able to share my bounty.
I have herbs in my little garden next to the house that did pretty well. I’ll dry them and share them with friends. Maybe make some more tinctures. I did a lot of that last year. This was my Sophomore year, as a friend put it, and I relaxed a bit. I went a little crazy last year, surrounded by so many bountiful plants growing wild.
Life Lesson #5 - Just Be
Don't these two words perfectly describe how the natural world operates? The plants and the animals just do what they do. So too do the rivers and the clouds and the wind and the rain (geoengineering aside).
My Mystery Garden left to her own devices, has turned out to be somewhat remarkable, with little to no fussing by me.
I remember when I was younger, and I would be asked in a class what I wanted to be/do in one year, five years, or ten years. I would groan and stubbornly refuse to answer. I have always been a live-in-the-moment kind of person. I don't like looking back at the past, and I especially don't like looking to the future. Planning ahead makes me cranky. I imagine my sun in Sagittarius has something to do with that, as well.
Fast forward decades (I was in my fifties), and my energy-healing teacher asked a similar question. I remember telling her that I just wanted to BE. I wanted to be of service just by BEing in the world and, hopefully, have a positive effect on the people around me.
A couple of years ago, I took an online quiz called The Earth Healing Archetypes. I knew the young woman who put it together, Asia Suler, from taking a few of her classes. This was no silly quiz. And boy, did it ever ring true.
A Wellspring is what my Earth Healing Archetype was deemed to be. And, sometimes, when I'm feeling less than adequate, that I'm not DOing enough, I'll remember what Asia said at the end:
"Trust the deep one within you that says: 'Stillness is my friend, patience is my gift, and slowness is how the world is transformed. I am, and the Earth will be.'"
P.S. I turned into my driveway a couple of weeks ago and stopped the car when I saw three tall saplings waving at me! Guess what they are??
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Your Mystery Garden looks and sounds beautiful. I have what I call a wild garden. I grow fruit, veg and herbs but my passion is "weeds"! It is not in me to grow rows of produce so I relate to your style of gardening. I'm looking forward to the start of growing season while enjoying the quiet time this season brings. Best wishes x
Oh Barbara, I really enjoy listening to your blog. You’re amazing, you have what so many farmers/gardeners could only wish for and that it true connection to the land. So don’t beat yourself up, don’t follow the ‘rule’ books on weeding and attending, just garden using your heart, your magical connection to the land and I have a feeling it will blossom and be bountiful!
I am in awe of all have done in such a short timeframe! Love you my friend ❣️🧚♀️❣️🧚♀️