I lived in our last house for ten years–longer than I have lived anywhere in my entire life. During that time I learned some important wisdom. Here are a few of the biggest lessons.
A solid foundation is worth the trouble: It doesn’t matter whether you are building a skyscraper, painting your house, or growing plants in the backyard: the basics are essential. When we moved in, we discovered that the soil was hard, dry clay and we needed a pick axe for much of the work we did in the first few years (I say “we” since my beloved was pressed into service for that job!). Over time we added tons of top soil; horse, chicken, cow and sheep manure; peat; compost; leaves–even when I had to steal them off the street; and annual mulch from the municipality. All of that annual effort was worth it because dark, rich soil grows beautiful flowers and vegetables.
There are no real shortcuts: In the beginning I was impatient, wanting my yard to be full of lovely, lush plants. I thought that the best way to achieve that was to introduce flowers that were known to grow quickly. They grew, all right! Vinca minor (periwinkle) smothered several plants and a small fountain. Lemon balm infected every flowerbed. Big, bushy mountains of geranium elbowed out several small hostas. In contrast, those slower-growing perennials like peony and sage filled out quite nicely over the years. How much weeding I could have avoided if I had been patient from the start!
Appreciate the process: I remember a poster that read, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” My backyard helped me understand that this is true. I like spending time planting seeds, pulling weeds and getting dirty. By no means am I an expert, and my yard never looked like a magazine feature, but that’s just fine. The satisfaction and relaxation from working in a garden is–like many things–a reward in itself.
Every season has its own beauty. At times of transition we tend to look back and assume that nothing will be as wonderful as that which we are leaving behind. And yet, while spring has its tulips and strawberries, summer has daisies and raspberries. Fall brings pumpkins and red leaves, but winter comes with sparkling white snow and holly branches.
Appreciate disasters because they teach you stuff. I learned the hard way that birds will eat all the sunflower seeds you sow directly into the ground, and that squirrels will eat sunflower seedlings when you grow them in pots outside. After a few more packets of seeds, however, I understood that all it takes to grow tall, strong sunflowers is to start them indoors. I may have been royally ticked off with those critters who kept wrecking my sunflowers, but every attempt led me closer to beautiful sunflowers.
Sharing is good. I have been the blessed recipient of some beautiful flowers over the years: white bleeding heart from L., yellow loosestrife from A. and M., shasta daisies from A. I have also had the delight of giving away bits of peony, rhubarb, iris, and hosta. I even enjoyed leaving grapes on the vine and seeds on the sunflowers so that the birds would stop by for a snack. Generosity filled my garden with beauty, and with fond memories as well.
Yes, all of these life lessons from nothing more than a small, suburban backyard. My life is definitely richer for the ten years I spent there, and in this season of thanksgiving I am grateful for that.