I am a lot of things, but one thing I most certainly am NOT is a gardener. Those of you who know me can attest to this—I have a “black thumb.” I’m notorious for killing any and all house plants, so every green thing in our home is fake. The one exception is a beautiful tree my husband bought impulsively from Costco, and we've agreed that it’s his responsibility—for its own safety.
The landscaping around our home was minimal when we moved in, and we haven’t done much to it—maintained, laid new mulch, that sort of thing, but this year we decided to make some changes. Now, to many of you “plant ladies” or seasoned gardeners out there, this will seem too ridiculously minor to even mention, but to me it is a big deal. We (and by we, I of course mean my husband) split our ginormous hosta plant in the front bed, and planted two portions of it out back. **Phew. That made me stressed and tired just typing it. What an accomplishment!** Then, because we (again, we=Ben) had such success with the hosta project we decided to GO NUTS. We bought two knockout rose bushes from Costco and decided to plant them in place of two struggling bushes that have been uglying up our front bed for the past couple years. I know. We are on a roll. Don’t even try to stop us.
These two poor rose bushes have been sitting out front in their pots for weeks, waiting forlornly for us to get up the umph to pull out those ugly bushes and plant the darn things. So yesterday I stared at them determinedly, and decided it was the day. As I raked back mulch, broke up hard and sticky dirt, yanked on gnarly roots, avoided millions of slugs and spiders being disturbed from their homes, made a huge muddy mess on the sidewalk, and wrestled with a stubborn, half-dead bush, I realized a few things.
Life is a lot like gardening. The seasons come and go: times for carefully planting, times for patiently waiting, times for joyfully watching new life sprout. There are times of toil in the hot sun, wondering if any of your hard work will pay off, or will come to nothing—eaten by passing wildlife or scorched by too much sun.
And yesterday—digging, wrestling and uprooting an unhealthy plant to make room for what needs to be there—was a metaphor for the season I’ve been in.
Sooner or later, we all get to a point in life where we realize we have unwanted things in our garden. We discover that we have overgrown weeds, diseased plants, or maybe beetles that are wreaking havoc. I’ve gotten to that point several times over my life, and this past November I encountered another one. A pretty dramatic one. I walked outside to survey my garden, and I was struck by the amount of unhealthy plants, overgrown weeds, and ravenous pests that were present. So I began a long, arduous effort to do what needed to be done.
This process has been a lot like wrestling with that thorny bush yesterday. It’s painful. I uncover things I would just as soon leave well enough alone. My back aches and I’m exhausted a lot of the time. There is a lot of sweat and sometimes tears. I pull up one weed and realize two more have sprouted. I set about digging up a diseased plant, and realize the roots go a lot deeper than I ever realized.
And during this time, I’ve needed to take breaks, stay hydrated, and wear protective gloves. I’ve taken a break—not from writing, but from posting what I write. I’ve also taken an extended break from social media because it’s what I’ve needed. I’ve gone to counseling, I’ve read lots and lots of books, and have drunk deeply from the wisdom of others who have gone through similar processes, and whose gardens are more mature than mine. When you have a garden that is as overgrown, and at the same as sickly as mine was, all these things are necessary.
This process is not a clean and tidy one. There is a lot of mud, a lot of dirt—everywhere. It’s not like cleaning a bathroom, or repainting a bedroom, where you see a clear line of progress. This process is not linear. It sometimes feels like two steps forward, one step back. Plants begin to droop sometimes and you have to give them some extra water to help them perk up. Growth is never as speedy as we’d like it to be.
Overhauling a garden is not an overnight process. It takes time. And I’m still in process.
One thing I’ve learned, however, is that in life you can’t wait until everything looks perfect before really living. You can’t wait until your garden is pristine and Versailles-like before you throw open the gate and invite friends over for a cookout. There is a time for stopping everything, for sequestering yourself, and focusing solely on the problem. And I’ve taken a lot of time to do that over the past six months. And then sometimes you just have to keep at it intermittently, being content to let the mess sit for a bit while you make some dinner and make some good memories.
Gardening is about patience. It’s about doing hard, thankless work everyday, and having no certainty about when the fruit and the blooms will come. It’s about faithfully tending. Faith-Ful. Full of faith. I have no certainty, but I do have faith that what I’m working on will eventually yield bounty and beauty. So I keep gardening. I keep living. And I keep embracing the mess.
Wherever you are, whatever your garden looks like today, I encourage you to take an honest assessment. Are their weeds—bad relationships, unhealthy patterns, toxic mindsets—that are choking out healthy life? Are their diseased plants—relationships that need attention and care, restoration, or reconciliation? Are there pests—addictions, numbing or self-medicating habits that are dampening your ability to live your life to the fullest?
Depending on the state of things, the stark reality can be a painful blow at first. But if you’re brave enough to admit what needs to be done, and to just simply start, the work will absolutely be worth it. Maybe you need to finally pick up the phone and make an appointment with a therapist. Maybe you need to call that family member and ask for forgiveness. Whatever it is for you, I’d encourage you to simply take the first step today.
And above all, please know that no matter how rough things look, or how strenuous the process might be, you are loved. And you are never alone.