Lessons from the Garden

September 29, 2013
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perennial garden
Life lessons found in the garden

I am an ordinary city gardener whose emotional connection to my gardens runs the gamut: anticipation, delight, frustration, satisfaction, enthusiasm, aversion, and apathy. It is now fall clean-up time and I am reminded of the many broader life lessons to be found in the garden.

When we moved into our house, there was little landscaping in the backyard. I’ve since created a perennial garden, a vegetable garden, a wildflower garden, and flower beds alongside the house. I don’t have a natural “green thumb” and the gardens haven’t been successes all the time. I’ve had to adjust along the way. But each has had its brilliant moments.

LESSON: Believe in yourself, don’t be afraid to try.

When I weed in springtime, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate weeds from flowers. Some of my perennials, when they first poke through the earth, look surprisingly like common weeds.

LESSON: Sometimes, you need to give a project time and nourishment

I wanted an easy-grow vine to crawl up the sides of our pergola. I chose hops, because they grow fast and are hardy enough for the prairie climate. I’d also heard they repel flies, but I can’t say whether that is true or not. The hops die back each fall, grow again in spring, and, within a short time, cover my pergola in green. But, the roots sucker, sending shoots up where you don’t want them. The plants get wild looking without trimming and weaving the branches through the lattice work. My husband and I continually rip out shoots and severely cut back the plant.

LESSON: Quick and easy solutions may have long-term consequences.

Hops on pergola
Sometimes a sickly-looking plant thrives when moved to a different location.

LESSON: Don’t rule out someone’s potential.

I didn’t have a detailed plan when I started my perennial garden. I had a rough vision in mind and developed it as I went along. Some plants looked spectacular exactly where I’d planted and as I’d envisioned them. Others grew a little differently than expected. Sometimes I needed to trim or move them. And sometimes, plants sprouted up in places I hadn’t expected, often adding a beauty I hadn’t planned. Volunteers, my father called them. Each spring and summer, the garden surprises and delights me.

LESSON: It is good to plan, but be open to the unexpected delights


I pour through seed catalogues in the mid of winter and plan for spring. Springtime, when I clean the beds and plant, is full of hope. I delight in the blues and pinks that appear in June and July. By August, my perennial garden looks tired. I am no longer interested in the regular maintenance. When I rouse myself to action and put some energy into it, the garden rebounds. I learn what plants I need to add for season-long colour.

LESSON: Things can usually be fixed or made better with effort and care.

Each year is different. Some years my radishes are woody or go to seed before producing anything edible. In other years, they are crisp and delicious. Some years the colours of the phlox are brilliant. In other years, very few phlox appear. It is often the result of that year’s weather. Sometimes, it is because of my own efforts or lack thereof, and I learn something for the next year.

LESSON: Life is full of second chances

My husband and I will be downsizing within the next year or two. Gardening will be minimal or non-existent in my future. I realize I’m ready for that. I suppose that is another lesson. Life has its seasons.

What have you learned from your garden?

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