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how does your garden grow

I've been gardening for the last eighteen years, the entire lifetime of my middle daughter. Can you imagine? Being and doing a thing for a lifetime? Being known and defining yourself a certain way for a lifetime?

For instance the plants you see beneath my colander: violets, day lily, wood Sorel (or pickle weed), broadleaf plantain, dandelion and lambs' quarters (or pigweed). For a lifetime, I've known them as weeds. As a farmhand and a gardener, I've diligently removed them to plant what I've understood--for a lifetime--as food.

But as you know, I've been on a journey learning these plants. It started with observation: they come back every year; insects pretty much leave them alone; they thrive without water. Observation led to inquiry: they're edible; they're nutritious and delicious; they're medicinal; pollinators like them; they're good for soil. Inquiry led to relationship: let them take over the garden beds; let me learn how to work with them.

I half-heartedly planted what I'm used to planting around and among these new friends. Because you know, I've been doing it for a lifetime and wanted to see what would happen.

For one thing, I water less. That feels good as we continue to vacillate between intense, erratic 100-year storms and persistent drought. For another, I can harvest this salad mix weekly and they keep growing. That feels good because I'm in direct relationship with Earth's abundance. And another thing, I also enjoy these beauties as tea. Which means, as I dry them, I'll have tea through the winter when they're dormant. Which also means I won't have to buy tea.

But my favorite part is this. When I see the so-called weeds pictured above flourishing in my garden beds, I feel contentment knowing they aren't just for me. They benefit soil, pollinators, rabbits, birds, fireflies, and I'm sure other beings I'm unaware of. All sorts of beings rely on them and yet they continue to thrive from early spring to late fall then come back again year after year. There's community happening in my garden. How amazing is all that?

By contrast, the tomatoes, squash, brassicas, eggplant and so on that I've tried to grow benefit the Japanese beetles, squash vine borer, and cut worms so much so that they decimate them. And because I've known myself as a gardener for a lifetime, I kept trying to grow what I was supposed to keep trying to grow; buying seeds and seedlings each spring, feeding and housing yet another generation of squash beetles and hornworms. Not so amazing.

You could say there's community in that scenario too. But it's a dead end. These annuals can't survive the insect pressure, constantly need water, need soil amendment, and need to be replanted. It doesn't make sense to persist in the ideas I've had about growing food, or what food is, even if I've invested a lifetime doing so.

Getting to know the violets, lily, Sorel, plantain, dandelion, and lambs' quarters is changing me. I take the same approach--observation, inquiry and relationship--toward aspects of life and myself that I've spent a lifetime judging as weeds. Maybe the qualities persistent in us serve purposes we can't comprehend yet because we've defined ourselves in particular ways, maybe even battling ourselves in order to be a particular way. Maybe the weeds inside us are life-giving gifts we actually need to thrive. Maybe the things in our lives we wish to dismiss are nutrient dense in ways we can't yet imagine because we're stuck inside a particular story that causes us to be dismissive of what we've not yet developed relationship with.

Sometimes I wonder if that is the opportunity inside climate change. Maybe we're invited to reimagine ourselves so we don't rot on the vine of our worn out notions of who we are, what Earth is supposed to be like, and who others are or are not supposed to be. Since Earth is evolving, using what we're doing to the planet to redefine Herself, maybe we're invited to evolve ourselves.


The plants to the right, alongside the colander: white onion blossoms, purple sage flowers, a sliver of onion stalk, and oregano.

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