The inevitable darkness of winter has arrived. In November I cleaned up our tired garden in preparation for its long rest, pulling up and composting the yellowed vines and spent plants, and removing the buggy broccoli stalks. The cilantro and arugula had shot up, flowered and gone to seed, so I scattered the little pods in the hopes they will grow again next spring. The last of the calendula flowers were dried on the kitchen table, and infused into almond oil to be made into healing salves. The turnips were harvested, the herbs trimmed and the tenacious morning glory ripped from the fencing and uprooted. The sage, gooseberry and currant plants that had grown in the garden long before it was mine stood brave and strong, ready for the cold months ahead. I left the leeks and new garlic shoots with some trepidation, not quite believing what I know to be true: the upcoming freeze would sweeten and nourish the white bulbs underground so they would be flavorful and ready for us to eat later.
Now the dear patch of ground that brought me so much solace last summer lies under more than three feet of snow. All I can do is hope that nature knows what it is doing, for certainly there is no sign that anything will ever grow there again. If I learned anything from a year of gardening through life’s hard times, it is this: we cannot ever know what will happen, no matter how well we plan, nor how good our intentions. Despite the white and gray of January’s snowy landscape, however, I do believe that nature will deliver and that spring will arrive, bursting with color and life. This faith that dark times will turn to light is tempered by the knowledge that the light will also return to dark, but the faith brings comfort none the less. It also brings the courage to engage in life as it unfolds, and to embrace the lessons that are offered from the weeds as well as the flowers.
Here are some of the lessons my garden taught me this year:
- A little struggle is good for everyone: Roots grow deeper when your plants are not over-watered.
- Consume life with gusto: The more you harvest, the more will grow. Cut off the lettuce heads and new life grows from the stalks, pick the zucchini and more blossoms come forth, snip the herbs and fresh sprigs appear.
- Sometimes maturity can only be obtained by letting go: Some produce will only ripen and sweeten off the vine or in someone else’s garden.
- Be open to change: When something isn’t working dig it up, pull it out, get your hands dirty, try something new.
- Don’t let bullies push you around: Trim them back and hem them in neatly. They will thrive happily within their boundaries and everyone else will have a chance to blossom.
- Avoid unnecessary irritants or Don’t stand on ant hills: The ants may be harmless but you really don’t want them crawling up your legs.
- And lastly, perfection is not required: There is always a little room for weeds.