Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Triangles, Tanks, Teabags and How Does Your Garden Grow?

Everyone has a few talents in life, and one of mine is metaphors. Or, if I want to be technically accurate — and who doesn’t — I am good at long, in-depth analogies that include metaphors and occasionally similes.

I was talking today to a friend — who describes herself as a go-getter, a why-waiter, a love-maker and a life-liver — and explaining my garden analogy to her. She encouraged me to write it down, along with a couple others I have shared with her.

So here it is. Maybe it will change the way you look at yards.

You can tell a lot about a person by observing how they garden. Or, as the case is often, how they don’t garden. This is impossible to understand without examples (here come the analogies and metaphors!), so here’s one: There is this….person….I know who fancies herself a gardener. When asked what activities she enjoys, she will mention gardening. Conjures up images of wet dirt and spades and shovels and piles of weeds in a wheelbarrow. Sounds nice, right? However, step into her yard and you will notice immediately that you are not in the yard of someone who truly understands the verb “garden.” The lawn is frequently not mowed; trees and bushes grow out of control, with no pruning or trimming. There is no new growth, except weeds. Seeds are never planted and new plants and trees are never cultivated. The yard looks almost the same as it did twenty years ago, when she bought the house. She simply moved in and…did nothing. The only things she does is occasionally buy showy seasonal flowers: The kind you display for a couple of months till they die. Or, in other words, the kind of beauty that requires no effort at all.

This is not to say there isn’t beauty in this yard: There is. There is a beautiful thriving blue hydrangea, which blooms each spring without fail. The lesson here is simple: Beauty can grow, sometimes without attention or effort or intent. It’s indomitable, and can thrive in the worst of circumstances. And it’s inability to be killed off often speaks more to its own tenaciousness and not always that of its groomer.

So why does this person consider herself a gardener? Who knows, but she really and truly does. And yet her efforts in the garden amount to a couple of hours every couple of months and a few afternoons of raking leaves in the fall. This is also a person who does little to change her life; a person who does not put time and attention into relationships; a person who will take credit for beauty when it is not hers to take.

There are people who plant seeds, and water and weed and nurture and grow. There are people who look at a dying plant or tree and think, I can save that, and do. There are people who plant bulbs each fall, knowing that their reward may or may not come the following spring, but they do it anyway, their patience and faith and optimism is just that solid and formed. There are people who buy expensive plants and then ignore them, leaving them to wither and die, starving for water and light and attention. There are those rose gardeners, in their neat little gloves and usually a wide-brimmed hat, who carefully and strategically snip snip snip, even taking away what seems beautiful, for the greater good. There are those who carefully remove the weeds that are choking their trees. The ones who plant the same things year after year, with amazing results. The ones who plant the same things year after year, with detrimental results. There are those with no yard at all, who have one old plant on a windowsill or fire escape, that they water faithfully for years and years. The ones who have the most amazing flowers, shrubs and trees right outside their window, but they don’t even notice. People who see the beauty in weeds. Those whose street-facing window boxes are perfect, but private back yard is a mess. I could, of course, go on and on, as there is an endless array of gardening styles out there.

Is this an infallible way of learning about a person’s character? I think not. What is, really? But I do think that every action we make speaks to who were are as people. If there is one thing I believe in with all my heart it is this: Actions speak louder than words. This is one of the reasons why all those “It Gets Better” videos bothered me. I can’t stand the hypocrisy of politicians — including the president — saying it will get better and it will be okay, and yet these politicians are not taking steps to make laws that might protect these people and make changes that just might ensure that things will indeed get better. Yes, they get their damn sticker for even making a statement, but back up all those words with some actions. I digress.

So: Actions speak louder than words. And every action we execute helps define who we are. Our words can support who we are, but sometimes they support who we want to be instead. Our intentions, as it were. But our actions don’t lie. Therefore, how a person gardens just might offer some insight into who they are. It doesn’t work across the board, and it is open to much interpretation, and, yes, it is hard to apply to city dwellers (but not impossible), but it does work on a certain level.

I could extrapolate this further and say that the type of flowers we like might also give insight into who we are. Like me, for example. I love hydrangeas. Love them. Blue or pink or white. I want a yard full of them. I have no clue why I am drawn to them, but I am. They are a little fussy and only bloom under specific circumstances and need a lot of attention. Pot, meet kettle. My friend Molly reminds me of a sunflower: Sunny, bright and heliocentric, which means she, like the sunflower, will turn her head into the sunlight. What a great way to get through life. We all need to be sunflowers sometimes. I know a few cacti, of course (who doesn’t?) and a few beautiful vines that really are toxic weeds. But most of the people I surround myself with are perennials.

What kind of gardener am I? We have had the Massachusetts house for a year, and I can now say that I am more of a gardener than I ever was before. My gardening traits are starting to show. I know I should rake, but I love to see the lawn carpeted with those golden yellow, red and brown leaves. I planted bulbs for the first time this year, but am skeptical that those brown, onion-like nuggets I threw six to eight inches into ground will actual bloom into something beautiful. How does that happen? I tend to gravitate toward planting fully grown or partially grown things. I took it personally that the sunflower seeds I planted didn’t grow, even though I literally threw a few seeds in the dirt to see what happens. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty or get down in the mud, but I am not sure what I am doing and need lots of guidance from manuals, seed packets, other people, or the Internet. I don’t like watering plants, because I am not used to standing still for any length of time, but I do it anyway, because I know plants need it. I think weeds have a place in this world.

I want to have the most amazing, lush perfect, sanctuary-like garden by next spring, but I realize that it is going to take years of continual hard work, effort and patience, not to mention weeding, deadheading, transplanting and cultivating, before that even remotely happens. And I am okay with that.

I have gotten into the habit of checking on the girls before I turn in, and re-tucking them in and giving them another kiss or three. Three and a half years old and I still can’t kiss them enough.

Coming soon: More analogies! One about tea bags and one about impenetrable triangles and one about the tanks that we all have…

Pictured above, as someone once wrote (and named a blog!) hydrangeas ARE pretty! Below that, my little gardeners. And Madeline, in the leaves. I am so proud that she sees the beauty in fall foliage. And some of the bulbs: A big seed and a lesson in patience and faith wrapped up in one onion-like package.


K J and the kids said...

When I was in school there was a handwriting analyst who spoke about different things you know about a person JUST by the way they write.
One of the examples that has not left me was the unfinished o's. If your o doesn't touch at the are typically someone who doesn't finish things, projects, assignments.
Since that day and still to this day....I will go back and touch my o's.

I guess my point to all of this I'm going to worry about my bushes being trimmed because I want to be like those people who nurture and grow and all of that good stuff.
You've just added to my list of things to do in order to fool everybody into thinking that I have it together. Find an analogy for that my friend.

impenetrable triangles huh ?

Jeannine said...

So well said. I too am a believer in actions, not just intentions or words, but I do love wonderful words and I would agree you have quite a way with them.

psapph0 said...

Thanks to this post I put the screaming 4 month old in her PeaPod and went out to work on my front step flower boxes.

Can we come up with you for Spring planting and Fall wood stacking weekends next year? It's crazy, but I have an insane weakness for yardwork... LOVE LOVE LOVE it...

Judy K said...

I love this post! I love your writing, your metaphors and analogies. I think I might print this post and send it to my mother in law to read. She is a gardener and an action taker and a lover of the written word. Thanks for sharing.