Nature’s Grace and Goodwill

Flowering Quince
Flowering Quince

Gardening, it seems, can teach you much more than what works and what doesn’t in a garden.

Tiny Hosta and Heather
Tiny Hosta and Heather

If you feel you must run for some form of pesticide at the first sign of insects on your plants you are going to find yourself continually challenged year after year. Developing tolerance for a bit of insect and critter damage in your garden will go a long way toward helping you keep your sanity as a gardener. Perhaps it might also help you to realize that you are likely benefitting many creatures that eat insects or feed them to their young. Besides birds and bats, there are many more insect eaters living in and around our gardens than we begin to realize! I learned this year that yellow jackets liquify insects and feed them to their young! Who knew? Raccoons not only eat your prized earthworms but your not-so-prized slugs and grubs and caterpillars! Given a bit of time ladybugs may discover and devour those aphids on your kale! Or you can cut off the parts of plants covered with aphids and feed them to your chickens, as I often do. Mine have developed quite a taste for them.

Watching tiny Nuthatches going into the birdhouse with beaks full of insects many times a day, helps me to step out of my “me-centered” view of the garden and realize that I am a part of a very complex web of life. Looking at my garden from the point of view of a Nuthatch I would see the insects that often plague me in a very different light.

Hosta, Salal and wild strawberry
Hosta, Salal and wild strawberry

If you don’t already have some resilience when you begin gardening you will either gain it, discover you had it all along – or with the first major disastor, you’ll throw down your garden gloves and quit. My first gardening catastrophe happened as soon as I began my gardening “career”. I sent for seeds in January and soon had hundreds of little seedlings popping up in trays all over the house! I was so excited! And then, before they even put on their second set of leaves – they all keeled over and died! I later learned this was due to damping off disease likely caused by the native soil I used to start them. Needless to say I was not encouraged by this experience! Fortunately I had some zinnia seed that I hadn’t planted yet and when the weather warmed I tossed them – unceremoniously and without much hope – in a bed outside – where they grew and bloomed prolifically all summer long! I guess, my first gardening success was making it through my first awful garden failure without quitting!

Hosta, licorice fern and wild strawberries
Hosta, licorice fern and wild strawberries in rock garden

You will very likely learn patience as you wait, for sometimes many years, to get fruit from a newly planted tree or vine, or for seeds to germinate or a planting to fill in or bloom. If you are into instant gratification you might achieve it by buying lots of already blooming annual flowers in the spring. But nearly everything that happens in a garden happens over time – slowly…   And, like I have, you may just discover the rewards are worth the wait. Our Queen Cox Pippen apple finally put on some fruit this year after a 7 year wait! And boy were they worth it! What exquisitely delicious apples! I can see why they are so popular in the British Isles.

Sedums in a bowl on a stump
Sedums in a bowl on a stump

Gardening can be a humbling experience, too, and I suppose most of us can benefit from a dose of humility now and again. In the garden it is usually gained from the realization that no matter how much human brain power or physical effort you exert, in the end Mother Nature is in charge. There is not much you can do to protect your garden from searing temperatures that go on week after week, or a hail storm, freak wind or extreme drought. Learning to accept failures and setbacks – for this moment in THIS season – is part of gardening! “There is always next year” may become your favorite motto.

turkeytail fungus
a wonderful bit of Nature

I am also reminded that anything I become attached to as “the way it should be done” will likely be proven to be wrong one day, and that perfection is a dubious goal. Even if achieved it is a fleeting moment in time. Nothing stays the same in a garden (or any where else for that matter). Which can be a good thing or a bit of a bummer, depending on the day of the week…

Kale and Veronica
Kale and Veronica on our first hugelkultur

I dearly love the dance we do with Nature, and am reminded over and over that anything we do in our gardens can be wiped out in the blink of an eye – or made strong and beautiful in ways we could not have imagined – with Nature improving on our paltry efforts so beyond our meager abilities. I watch my gardens evolve and know how little credit I can take for most of it – that what thrives and is beautiful, is so because Nature has chosen to applaude my effort and support it. There is always just enough that has struggled and failed in spite of all my hard work, to keep me mindful of the fact that it is not my knowledge or experience that make things succeed, but Natures grace and goodwill…

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