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Lessons Learned in the Garden

Lessons Learned in the Garden — 5 Things I Didn't Want the Garden to Teach Me (But It Did Anyway)

There have been many lessons learned in the garden — sometimes they're painful and inconvenient, but they're always worth it. Here are 5 things I didn't want the garden to teach me, but it did anyway.

a large garden under a blue summer sky with vines growing on its wooden fence

1. Patience

Patience, patience, ugh, the garden loves teaching frickin' patience! Waiting for spring to arrive, waiting for the nighttime temperatures to stay above 50º F, waiting for seeds to germinate, watching and waiting to see if your seedlings will grow into mature plants, patiently researching what might be going on with your soil that's not allowing your plants to thrive, patiently picking squash bugs off your squash plants knowing they'll be back, watching and waiting for your first tomato of the season to ripen and then mustering some more patience as a hornworm takes the first bite before you can. Whew. The garden asks a lot of patience of the gardener.

I failed my lesson in patience twice this spring: Twice I thought I could get away with purchasing and planting 36 marigolds before the danger of frost was really past. But those orange and yellow hues popping off at the garden store were calling to me, so I went ahead and bought 3 dozen. The next day. I planted them all, and man, did they look beautiful! Well, we got some low temps a few nights later, and I awoke to 36 dead marigolds, killed by frost.

A week or so later (still not in the clear as far as potential frost, but, you know, it would probably be ok!), I bought another 36 marigolds. The above scenario again played out. Damn. Maybe I should have just been patient...

a gloved hand holds two large red potatoes with dirt on them

2. I'll Never Be An Expert

There is so much to know about plants. Try as I might, I will never know everything there is to know about any one thing living in my garden. No one will ever know everything there is to know about plants — plant life is infinitely more wise than humans could ever dream to be. Plants have lived on this earth long before humans came into the picture, and they'll probably be here long after we're gone. I will always be learning, and I'm learning to be OK with that.

Sometimes (ok, like every day), I think: Who am I to be talking about plants as if I know anything? So many times I have thought I knew what I was talking about, only to be completely humbled later when I find out I was entirely mistaken or left out a huge component of something fairly basic (say hello to my reel wherein I layered my Vego Garden raised beds with logs — a no-no, mulch, and compost, but... not... any... soil). If you're looking for how to fill raised beds, check out this post from my friends at The Fresh Exchange.

But guess what? It's gonna be ok. We don't have to be an expert in something to talk about it. I'm not an ecologist, botanist, or Master Gardener, but I am an amateur, a lover of plants and gardening, and I'm here to share what I do know (and I'll be honest about what I don't know) in hopes of encouraging another non-expert to get in the garden.

A raised bed garden with rows of plants

3. Things That Are Worth It Take Time (An Annoyingly True Cliché)

When I was 4 months pregnant with my twins in the summer of 2020, I planted a native prairie plant garden along the east-facing fence line of my vegetable and herb garden. I planted this garden to attract pollinators to my vegetable plants and because I simply love prairie plants.

I used plugs instead of seeds so that I could more easily mark and monitor the growth of my plants. They were so tiny and I remember feeling like it would take forever before they were mature, putting forth blooms, and filling in the space. I planted gray headed cone flower, compass plant, common milkweed, butterfly milkweed, whorled milkweed, pussy toes, elder, and others. Some of the plants died or were scratched out of the soil by my chickens (chickens are the best but also the *worst*). It felt like I was always taking one step forward, two steps back.

I take it for granted now, as the plants are mature and fill in the space beautifully, but it took nearly 3 years to get to the point where this garden looked like anything but a mess of grass and weeds encroaching on my baby prairie plants. Now, the elderberry bush that I absolutely could not wait to be able to gather elderflower and elderberry from is mature with probably 2 dozen umbels in full bloom. It's beautiful, and it was so worth the wait. This year I'll be able to make my own elderberry syrup right from my own backyard. Herbal medicine from a plant just a few steps out of my back door. How amazing is that?

Green onion in a raised bed in the foreground and background

4. Just Because You've Done Everything 'Right' Doesn't Mean You Will Succeed

Even when I've done everything right, things still happen that derail my efforts. Just because you do something 'by the book' doesn't guarantee you'll have success. Life is nothing if not full of variables, and often times those variables are way outside of our control.

I consider this a valuable lesson rather than simply a depressing one because learning and accepting that this is true makes us more resilient and adaptable. For example, as climate change continues to affect our seasons, our summers here in northeast Kansas are getting hotter and drier: Last year I did everything 'right' growing spinach, but it just got too hot too soon for the spinach I've been growing to thrive. It bolted early, and I ended up getting no greens to eat at all. That was really disappointing, but the experience led to me trying out a more drought-tolerant variety of spinach. This variety will serve me better in the years going forward as our summers become even more unpredictable.

If things went right every time, we wouldn't learn and we wouldn't really have a reason to explore other options and try something new. When we fail, it offers us the opportunity to take a closer look at the situation, probably learn something we didn't know before, and we'll likely explore other options that we weren't previously aware of.

Purple bean blooms are framed by green leaves

5. We Never Want to Learn the Most Valuable Lessons in Life

... Because it's fucking painful! It hurts to learn the most important lessons life has to offer us. We learn things from failure, not success.

This season I purchased raised beds and am using true raised beds for the first time ever. A lot of my plants are currently failing to thrive because I filled up my raised beds incorrectly. That sucks. It makes me sad. It's harder for me to get myself to go out to my garden this year because I know I'll see a lot of sad plants and bare dirt. BUT! The situation has made me do some research on the correct way to fill raised beds, and I've learned a lot about what I did wrong, and at the very least, I won't make this same mistake again next year. Would I have preferred to have fantastic success and currently have a garden full of lush, thriving plants? Absolutely. That would have pleased me immensely! But... I wouldn't have learned what I learned by failing.

What lessons have you learned, from gardening or otherwise, that you didn't want to learn, but that you're now glad you did?

Thanks for reading!


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