A Garden Is More Than Flowers


When I was a kid, we had a standard garden plan each year from which we rarely deviated. Constant structure was provided by groomed yew bushes. Red geraniums, dusty miller, and a spike plant populated the flower boxes. The shady side yard became home to multicolored impatiens. The only perennials were a common bleeding heart plant that appeared by the apple tree and an ever-expanding patch of peppermint I had started with transplants from the Heritage House, an old museum of a house by the junior high school we all toured as part of our well-rounded education.

When I started my own garden, I was very interested in creating expansive perennial gardens, inspired by my mother-in-law’s beautiful garden and the glossy pages of her many gardening books and magazines. I envisioned a riotous cottage garden bursting with extravagant flowers all summer. But it’s harder to get constant color than you might think, and I realized at some point that the only moment those gardens in magazines looked perfect was on the day the photos were taken. I’ve also had to adjust my expectations of my back yard garden as I take into account the heavy shade, the heavy soil, the walnut tree that slowly poisons many other types of plants.

Just as with my new garden bed around my new tree and that immovable stump, you have to work with what you’ve got. You can spend years amending the soil, trimming trees, and doing lots of extra watering or fertilizing to get your ideal garden to thrive. Or you can simply look for plants that will be happy in the conditions you already have. And when we start looking at our current situations as opportunities rather than liabilities, we’re a lot happier.

As time goes by and my gardens evolve and new varieties of hostas and huecheras and many other plants are developed, I find I’m just as happy with the many textures and shades of green you can get with the right assortment of plants as I would have been with a garden of nothing but flowers. The above photo collage shows just a few of these.

It’s not hard to extrapolate this lesson into the rest of life. Even when we’re not in the exact job or relationship or state of personal or professional development we might want to be, we can find ways to thrive right where we are. We may need to adjust our expectations. Or we may simply need to recognize that there are different opportunities waiting for us to take advantage of them. You know the term “bloom where you’re planted.” But maybe you don’t even need to bloom right at this moment. Maybe you just want to be a cool green plant with lots of texture. Be assured that you’re just as interesting that way (and a heck of a lot less trouble to keep happy).

Easy Come, Easy Go

You know that random writing opportunity that fell out of the sky last week? Well, as things often turn out in the freelance world, it kept falling right past me and the earth swallowed it up. A part of me is disappointed about the loss of potential experience and money. Another part of me is relieved at the sight of all those Saturdays that would have been spent traveling to interviews and all of those evenings that would have been spent writing someone else’s story going suddenly, gloriously blank.

Glad I used pencil.

The Way It Seems to Work

FlakeI’m sure you’ve had this experience. You make a plan to do something, you start executing that plan, things are working, things are cooking, and then someone comes along with an “opportunity” for you that, when it comes down to it, you just can’t pass up. It will take time, energy, and creativity (which you have already earmarked for your planned work) but you just can’t pass it up because it will give as much as it takes–more experience, connections, and, oh yeah, money. And suddenly your perfectly apportioned calendar becomes bloated and more complicated. You start to get nervous and you think to yourself “I don’t know about this…”

Ever happen to you?

As you may have guessed, a nice, paying writing opportunity was dropped in my lap this week and I have decided to pursue it. I have also decided to keep my promise to myself and any potential readers out there to write and self-publish one short story each month. I also need to finish pulling together a proposal for a writing conference, make a quilt for a friend, clean my house up before my mother arrives for a visit (today), and, what was that other thing? That’s right, my full time job. Thank goodness there are still three more months before I need to think about yard work.

Just like that the very lovely January feeling of finally having your calendar and your goals under control dissipates into a vaguely uneasy sense that you will get it all done (because you have to) but you might not always enjoy it.

There you have it. Opportunity comes along at inopportune times. But you still need to grab it and run with it and realize that, with a little crazy ambition and an understanding spouse, you are hard at work blazing the trail to the life you truly want–the writing life.

You know what? 2013 is going to be a great, crazy year.