I wasn’t born with a green thumb. My mother can make just about anything grow and I always lamented that I never inherited her gift. For most of my life, I never had the patience or attention span to keep a plant alive beyond the first tiny shoots. I would either get so excited and water it to death, or get distracted and come back to find it shriveled and beyond saving. It’s no surprise that my own wellness was often neglected in a similar fashion–bursts of ‘self-care’ splurging and bingeing followed by long bouts of self-neglect that would eventually lead to burnout. Much like losing every plant I ever tried to raise, it was frustrating and exhausting.
When I started my container garden four years ago, I made a conscious decision to do things differently. I asked to friend who was an avid gardener to help me get started; they took me to their favorite nursery and helped me pick out a mint plant, a parsley plant, and a rosemary plant. They gave me tips on what to look for and assured me that if I was patient and attentive, I would have no trouble keeping them alive. They also pointed out that mint, being a weed, would be nearly impossible to kill; choosing some easy starter plants would help to boost my confidence. Over the subsequent months, I dealt with browning leaves and random wilting, and fought off mold and aphids that wanted to eat my plants to death. I also discovered that, in order for my plants to reach their fullest potential, I had to be willing to cut off the dead weight, even if they ended up looking a little sad and bald-headed at first, and experienced the excitement and satisfaction of cooking with herbs that I had grown.
Last year, I moved from an apartment into a house and my little garden moved from inside to outside. Right away, my parsley plant was eaten up by caterpillars. I was initially very frustrated and angry, but eventually accepted that the caterpillars were only doing what they needed to do to fuel their transformation and that this was ultimately my parsley’s natural purpose. Instead of fighting with the caterpillars this year, I simply decided not to grow parsley. My rosemary plant faced a harsh winter and didn’t make it; right now, I am cultivating some new cuttings to try for a new plant. Exceedingly pleasing to me is the fact that my mint plant is still thriving four years later, just as my friend said it would; it has shriveled up each winter and come back in full force each spring, truly a source of inspiration for me.
In the past four years, I’ve tried growing a bunch of different plants, herbs, and flowers, with some success and no small amount of failure. Gardening has helped me to learn patience and perseverance, taught me how to manage disappointment, and made me a better listener; you have to be to care for something that cannot speak. Tending my plants brings me such a feeling of peace and reminds me that we all need care every day to thrive; if we leave self-care until we’ve started to wilt, we’ll never reach our full potential.
This spring, I’ve adopted a number of other plants to join my little garden, many of which I’ve never grown before. And yet, I feel excited to work with them. I’ve already run into some bumps and I’m making a point to remember the lessons that I’ve learned over the years.
1. Keep it simple. I tried a lot of weird gardening ‘hacks’ in the beginning and they never made any difference. Water, sunlight, and the right scenery are usually all it takes to make any plant happy. You’re no different. Focus on the small things, like sleep, eating, and hydration. When you find yourself wilting, try returning to those things first; once you’ve tended to the basics, it’s easier to see what else needs doing.
2. Remember to take a step back. Often we do way too much in trying to figure out and fix what’s wrong when what we really should do is listen. Introducing a new food to a wilting plant or moving it to a new type of soil may overwhelm and stunt it when a simpler solution is likely the key. If we listen to our plants (and ourselves), we can often find the answer.
3. The right support can make all the difference. Often a plant that struggles to grow on its own will thrive if moved closer to another plant. Cultivate those relationships that feed your soul and encourage you to grow.
4. Ditch the dead weight. Pruning a plant for the first time can be such an anxiety-provoking process. How can cutting off what took months to grow possibly be a good thing? But pruning off those shoots that just aren’t growing or are actively sucking the life out of the rest of your plant is exactly what you need to do. Changing habits or severing relationships in your life that aren’t serving your growth and may be actively holding you back can be a difficult, painful, but ultimately transformative process.
5. Be brave enough to ask for help. Rather than continuing to struggle with dying plants on my own, I turned to a knowledgeable friend for advice. If what you’ve been doing just isn’t working, seeking support from someone with experience or expertise can help you to find a different approach.
Take time every day to tend your garden–your green one and the one inside you. Do it regularly and consistently. Cultivate your peace and you may just be surprised at how you thrive.
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