Planting your garden?
Every garden in the world started with a desire for something more, more than the purely utilitarian need for food, a desire for beauty and peace, a place of order in a world of chaos, something better. No one knows for sure why the hunter gatherers first started changing and manipulating the natural world around us, it might have started with simple weeding to protect their favourite plants, helping a friend to thrive, especially if that friendly plant turned into something alcoholic or sweet. It is humbling to think that civilisation could have started with the hunter gatherer equivalent of the pub, though it is easy to imagine wanting to stay in one place for longer than a night if it had fermented mangoes that made you feel wonderful. And once you let the settled cultivation genie out of the bottle there was no going back, it changed our relationship to the land, it became a resource that needed protecting as well as giving us huge benefits, a stable reliable source of food that out-competed the nomadic way of living, not overnight but humans are fast learners, they know which is going to be the winning side and the world changed within a few centuries.
Modern gardeners face different problems, they do not have to defend their gardens or rely on their food, but they have more choice and abundance, which can be a double edge sword. Given limitless choice, it is hard to decide what to do, it is easy to be dazzled by the idea of a blank page and perfect soil, but luckily that is never the situation that they actually face. Instead every piece of land has its history, its previous uses, unique soils, sunlight, weather and environments. There might be local history that affects what they can do, and how the land is going to be used, people influence the land in so many ways, there are no pig farmers in Israel or cattle ranchers in India, you find organic farming in rich countries and high-technology, high yield plants in Africa, and all this is before you even approach the question of what is pretty?
It is pointless to even try and produce a perfect garden without knowing who your client is, what their needs are and what they are trying to achieve. A pleasingly wild garden might appeal to the wonderful mother Earth type of people, a Sergeant Major might like his rows of peas and a cook might be delighted by several varieties of onions. And when it comes to the garden that is our life and life situation, the decision as to what you cultivate is even more important, you have to decide what you pay attention to and how you feed the different aspects of your life. You have to decide whether the garden is for yourself or whether it is to show off to others, does it serve you or do you end up serving it with relentless demands for maintenance.
Building a life that is just for show, that is only to impress other people ends up being empty of any trace of who you truly are, you do not have to be loved by everyone, you do not need to be universally popular and inoffensive to all. It is fine to build a garden that only you can love, that only you find charming and delightful, that brings you joy, as your garden is only really for you. You have to decide whether what you want is an expensive gazebo or can you be perfectly happy with a rusty set of swings and overgrown grass to lay on. You have to decide what you want to grow in there, do you wish to nurture and feed your positive quality and traits, the beautiful and positive emotions that you are capable. Or instead, you can choose to be indifferent and negligent, an absent landowner, who allows their plot to become overrun by the weeds of anger, fear, envy, jealousy and possessiveness, we all choose what we grow in our own garden, what we pay attention to and are aware of, the plants we choose to feed and cultivate.
You do not get to change everything overnight, but you do choose the direction you wish to travel. You get to plan the next season and respond to how your garden has developed so far, if you are entering the wet season you might worry about drainage, whilst during a long hot summer your concern might be to water and shelter your plants every day. There are periods to enjoy your garden and the fruits of your production, and others when you are just turning the soil over and getting an early start on the weeding with the rewards of your hard labour being a distant hope that is relying on so many things that are out of your control. You never know how many potatoes you are going to dig up until the day of harvest, they lay underneath the soil hidden until the last possible moment, you have no control over how many hours of sunlight they get or how nutrient rich soil actually is, these are just random things you have no control over and a gardener just has to accept the limitations of their knowledge and influence over unpredictable effects.
All a gardener can do is affect those things that are under their control, they can give things the best chance to succeed and thrive, they can give them opportunities and protect whatever growth they do have, they can tend the garden with love and attention, but the love that they receive in return is not in their control. However as every gardener knows, there is always a new season, spring always turns in the summer, autumn follows and winter gives you a fresh start. You get to decide every year to start again, to embrace change and uncertainty, you get to appreciate the effect you are having overtime, you get to decide how much effort want to put in to the future and what immediate benefits you get, you get to make big choices and small ones.
Planting an apple tree is a long-term decision, you change the nature of your garden when you do so, you introduce shade and a source of easy, high-value fruit that once the hard work is putting in the beginning, actually needs very little maintenance on a yearly basis. Rhubarb covers ground and protects from weeds, lettuces are a joy but have to be shared with the slugs, every decision changes the dynamics of your garden and it is these small decisions that changes a piece of land with potential into the achievement of your own personal piece of Eden that will hopefully bring you the glow of a job well done and a little grace, ease and joy.
Most of all enjoy your garden, you do not need a grand strategy or a plan for all circumstances, you do not need to make every decision today, just do the job that needs doing first, then worry about the next job after, it is amazing how often a path will emerge, decisions will flow from the last action as your knowledge of your plot of land grow, you will realise that there is a perfect spot for strawberries or that you like sitting in a particular spot which really could do with a bench. As long as you are working everyday on your garden all will end up being well.