3 Life-Changing Lessons My Plants Have Taught Me Recently

updated Nov 2, 2020
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Along with sewing machines and water color paper, raised garden bed boxes were hard to find this spring. They went through a few cycles of being sold out everywhere, coming back in stock, and then getting snatched up again. I managed to snag a set during one of these iterations, ordered several bags of soil for curbside pickup, and embarked on a quarantine project with the kids that I’ve been wanting to try again for a few years anyway: square foot vegetable gardening.

All five of our kids were involved, including the 3-year-old who donned his fleece shark hat for the occasion. I couldn’t figure out why until I realized he’d put on the only hat of his he could find so he could match me, his mama, who wore a wide-brimmed gardening hat. The baby oohed and ahhed and copied our gentle hands while she pointed at tiny leaves with dimpled fingers and chubby yummy bent knees. Our older boys used teamwork and their muscles to do the heavy lifting and reminded me with their harmony that there’s something fulfilling for some kids in doing manual labor and something missing when they aren’t able to lift and push and grunt and sweat with effort.

We set up the beds, lined them with weed barrier fabric, tore into the taut plastic stretched over our dirt and dumped it in. We mixed in a fertilizer, lovingly raked the loamy earth, dug neat holes, and tucked in our baby plants, one by one.

My husband jokingly called the endeavor my “doomsday garden.” I don’t expect to keep our family fed with our little plot, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that planting a vegetable garden during a pandemic definitely brought to mind the days of victory gardens and the comforting sense of triumph and self-sufficiency that I imagine they conferred.

Gardening, as always, gives me so much. It’s a respite from the noise in the house and the noise in my mind. I hear the chirps of birds and am able to hear, again, the truth in my heart. My fingers close around dirt and I find my feet planted firmly on the ground. And this newest gardening venture taught me a couple new things, too, about life in general.

1. Companions matter.

Vegetable gardening comes with a whole host of things to learn and ways to improve. One of these areas is companion planting, which, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, is “the practice of growing certain plants alongside each other in order to reap the benefits of their complementary characteristics, such as their nutrient requirements, growth habits, or pest-repelling abilities.” (Interestingly, vegetables that you would eat together do well together, such as tomatoes and basil. Some pairings are natural and are likely the origins of the characteristic flavors of certain cuisines.) The reverse is also true; while some plants thrive next to one another, others compete. These foes should be planted at least four feet apart.

Doesn’t this ring true for our own lives? Just like plants that do better next to “friends,” we need complementary people to help us grow. The thing I too often forget is that we can be deliberate about who we plant ourselves next to, and perhaps more importantly, who we plant ourselves a good distance from.

2. Kindness costs nothing.

As we were planting our vegetables and herbs, I told my kids that plants have been shown to grow better when people talk nicely to them. As these words were coming out of my mouth, I thought of my own role and that how I talk affects my own growing little brood.

But a few minutes later, my son showed me that, in the innocence of youth, he took my words to heart. As he planted a scraggly looking thyme plant (we were transplanting it and it was still bouncing back from winter frosts), he held it and said, “It’s okay, little guy. You can do it. I believe in you.”

It’s doing great, if you’re wondering, but whether my little boy’s words helped or not, they reminded me how sweet kind, encouraging words sound, and how good they taste coming out of your mouth. I saw my son soften as he spoke. My heart, of course, melted. And, who knows, maybe the thyme plant perked up. Kindness costs nothing but is immeasurably valuable.

3. Always edit out the “weeds.”

Weeding illustrates a fundamental truth: Removing what you don’t want makes it easier to see what you do. Editing out what doesn’t belong eliminates the distraction from what is supposed to be the literal or figurative focal point. It doesn’t matter if it’s freeing the David statue from the piece of castoff marble like Michelangelo did, decluttering the clothes you don’t like wearing from your wardrobe, saying no to commitments that don’t support the life principles you strive to live by, or pulling out the weeds that obscure the marigolds.

Eliminating the extra and the unnecessary lets the beautiful and the best shine—in our gardens and everywhere.