Lessons for Life Learned in a Garden

I think you would like my flower gardens: each is multi-colored, overlapping, chaotic. Wandering my yard, you’ll see bee balm tickled by roses, pansies relocating beneath cranesbill, columbine dancing with poppies, and a tiger lily undaunted by the pink plumpness of an overhanging peony.

House Aspen Garden

If you listen as you stroll from flower bed to flower bed, you might hear honeysuckle whispering its secrets, pinks creating a commotion, lemon thyme creeping between paving stones, and giddy daisies dancing to the chant “He loves me; he loves me not.”

arbor from yard

I weeded yesterday. The sun warmed my back as tall spears of grass surrendered with reluctance and dandelions succumbed to my mud-slick fork. My hands stiffened by drying dirt, knees water-soaked, and heart content, I listed the lessons I’ve learned from my garden.

Work is required. I nearly abandoned my late-in-life desire to garden when Craig suffered a hard frost and most of my newly planted flowers observed Memorial Day by dying. A few struggled along well into July before giving up and taught me that knowing the difference between annuals and perennials wasn’t enough.

I had to be consistent with watering and fertilizing, persistent at weed removal and deadheading, vicious when fighting slugs and aphids, and careful about sun and shade requirements when deciding where to plop plants.

Patience is necessary. As my skill increased, so did my understanding of a garden’s ebb and flow. Trees and shrubs move at a majestic pace; perennials can take years to come into their own; and annuals sometimes burst big and then turn temperamental. All green things have their season: their month to flourish, their year to star, their time to struggle. They march to their own drummers rather than to mine.

Change is inevitable: I’ve quit trying to be the boss of plants. I now understand my job is to adjust as they defy my omnipotence by doing what they want when they want. While some make themselves comfortable in their assigned seats, others outgrow their space, creep out of bounds, hide as though camera shy, reseed themselves willy-nilly, or strangle their neighbors. And every year, beloved veterans give up and depart for plant heaven.

Perfection is impossible: Unlike humans, a garden doesn’t care about winning yard of the week. Every spring I hope my planning and work will result in a problem-free plant paradise; and every summer mother nature demonstrates her power: a patch of lawn abandons its former glory and turns scruffy with patches of clover; an aspen flecks the yard with diseased leaves; unusually hot temperatures burn red roses black; hail beats new clematis blossoms off the vine, and petunias fail to thrive in an area they loved for ten years.

Challenges are constant: Weeds never give up. Husbands voice opinions. Enough said.

As I learned to garden, I realized I was also learning how to live well and age well: work hard, be patient, and accept change, imperfection, and challenges.

Lessons for life learned in a garden.

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57 thoughts on “Lessons for Life Learned in a Garden

    • I remember Mom gardening in every house we lived in, Janice. It is just one more skill she had I wish I had been wise enough to do with her so I could have learned from her. That constant bloom thing is hard to achieve.

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  1. I remember deciding at least one day every summer when I was young to start a garden. I would work all day, plant the seeds in the ground, make rows as I thought I should. It would be dark too quickly and I would go inside, exhausted but so happy. Nothing ever grew in my planted garden. I am sure it had more to do with where I planted it and when than anything.
    When we bought our first house we took out a couple sections of grass to grow food. My oldest son wanted his own garden. He planted as we planted and he was much more fortunate than I was at his age! His garden produced food!
    We have now been without a yard for 3 yrs. There is so much to grow and enjoy here, in our new location. We are looking for a house…it is slow going, mostly because we have time to be thoughtful and want it to feel like a place we are proud to call home. But, the thought of planting, watching our yard flourish and grow, seeing my boys weeding and tending to our food and flowers…now that is a dream I can’t wait to live in.
    Your photos of your yard are lovely 🙂 I love all the stones mixed with color. A nice balance!

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  2. You have obviously learned your life lessons well. Through the years I too have learned that a garden can be the place of refuge, enrichment, contemplation, contentment, and darned hard worthwhile work.
    In each home we have lived, I have nurtured a different type of garden. In this home of 40 plus years, there have been many. I love the serenity of the simple Japanese garden, but it never seemed right here. For several years an English garden flourished, now there are many camellias, azaleas and pots of various things. In our prolonged drought, I have decided not to plant anything this year. It is difficult enough to keep the bird baths filled. It is strange to wander through the nursery with all the color spots but we adapt don’t we?

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    • Yes, we do adapt, Kayti, but I’m sorry that someone who loves gardening as you do and combines that love with knowledge, as you must to create the gardens you describe, has had to forgo the pleasure this year. I hope generous, gently rains arrive and next year you can wander through nurseries and buy plants you’ll nurture and enjoy.

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  3. Janet, such beautiful pictures and such wise words. Without your permission, I’m going to share with your readers something you wrote last month.
    ” I’m sitting in the arbor writing this, sipping coffee, and watching bees and hummingbirds work the honeysuckle blossoms. It’s still quite cool at this hour, so I’m in my house slippers and pajamas with uncombed hair, but hidden in the arbor, nobody knows.”
    That’s such a true picture of you and shows you also know how to appreciate the rewards of your work. I like the corner or your stone house showing in the first photo.

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    • Goodness, Mary, reading the bit of my email you shared above reminded me of the quiet pleasure I take in my yard and also made me think, “Wow, I can still write!” Thank you, thank you. Ah, and you know how I love my house. You do realize, my dear friend, that you inspired my gardening and taught me much of what I know.

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    • Chaotic is an apt descriptor for my gardens, Dan; sometimes I tell myself the weeds poking through here and there make them even more delightfully chaotic. Mr rule: never feel bad about your yard; rather, enjoy it for what it is. How about that.

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  4. What lovely photos!
    I agree with everything you wrote about lessons learned in a garden. However, I find it’s easier to accept challenges and imperfections in my own life than it is in my garden! Maybe it’s the influence of all those picture-perfect “Home and Garden” magazines.

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    • Thank you, Kay. True confession: I apply the virtues more easily to my garden than to myself. I need to work on that. Kay, I love your blog and read it regularly, but can find no place to comment and tell you how much I enjoy your writing. Am I missing something?

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      • Hi there–you can comment! I’m not sure what shows up for you but should be button. If not, click under Recent Comments on title of piece and you’ll be led to comment section:).

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      • I’m so happy, Kay. Your response motivated me to return to your page and search it thoroughly once more. Sure enough, there was no comment button anywhere and no indication of recent comments. I was about to give up in despair when I remembered something that works on another blog I follow. I clicked on the date your post was published and — wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles — the comment section for the post appeared. Sorry I was so slow in figuring out how to correspond with you. I’m looking forward to doing so.

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  5. Aunt B, I am learning those life lessons again as we have community discussions on what we might like to be in one year or five.

    The lessons are listen carefully, enjoy the comments (some say ‘be in the moment’ and not formulate a witty response), of course, work hard, change is inevitable and need I say, challenges are the soil in which we grow! PS Can you tell I do not have a garden or flower beds this year and work is on my mind?!

    The Sheridan gardens are simply lovely each year. Thank you for sharing the pretties.

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  6. I was blessed to spend two years in a small prairie town-500 or so people. All the women had gardens, banded together if “Spray Drift’ from the farms killed any ones, they did not ask for holidays, they took days off to bring in their gardens, and do a group chicken kill, rugged, gossipy, stalwart, the kitchen I worked had free lettuce and tomatoes all summer- I like to think the little towns like Gilbert are not gone. Me, in the city, keep a dusty cactus- “Cack” alive. Very peaceful post thanks Janet…aah, smell that soil behind the plow…

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    • “…rugged, gossipy, stalwart…” the good women of Gilbert sound like my kind of folks. Sadly, I know in my area of the world, the little towns are drifting away as the elders die and the youth prefer city lights. I appreciate your description of my post as peaceful, as that was the mood I wanted to evoke. Thanks, Sheila. And take good care of Cack. He (I assume your cactus is male) sounds like a trouble-free companion.

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      • Yes Janet- Cack has bristle-whiskers and grows a new pad every two years, I imagine the closing of your gate, to cool stone and quiet- one more note of gardens here- we are over run with urban deer, deer being browsers, also love a garden. Sad how the little towns are going the way to, of lovely Gilbert. (They had 3 hours of tornadoes last night, scary)

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      • Deer also wander the streets of Craig, stopping to nibble on begonias and petunias when it strikes their fancy. They can do real damage to new trees and are capable of wiping out a flower bed when hungry.

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  7. It is such a delight to read this post, Janet. I find my garden has the same potential to teach me everything I need to learn in life.
    Due to changing temperatures, one can’t ever foresee what lies ahead, change is a constant. I have just had my orchids, that were given to me, burnt by frost, when i thought I’d put them in a protected spot. I hope they shoot again! I did so enjoy walking through your garden with you and smelling the honeysuckle. ❤

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  8. Although I do not garden per se, I do think it is nice to get your hands dirty once in a while. By digging in the dirt, we can ground ourselves and touch mother nature. There is great energy in the earth. Beautiful post.

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  9. Your garden looks wonderful. I tried it for a couple of years, but gardening cut into my fishing time. My next story is all about yard work, and the Izzak Walton Angling Society for the Abolition of Domestic Shores. Once I embraced Morning Glory, Sage, and Tumbleweed, my life became pastoral.

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    • I’ll look forward to the article, Rob. There is nothing wrong with morning glory, sage, and tumbleweed. My childhood was graced by all three and I thought them wonderful. My high school drama teacher once decorated his classroom for Christmas with 3 big tumbleweeds stacked on top of one another, spray painted white, and flecked with glitter. It was awesome.

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  10. Beautiful garden and everything looks so vibrant and happy and in their place even though they may wander away from where they were originally planted. The best gardening advice I received was: if it dies, get over it and buy another one. My gardening took on a new lease of enthusiasm after that and I’ve stuck to it ever since 🙂 Linda

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    • I love your gardening advice; it’s a bit of wisdom I, too, adopted soon after I started gardening. I have the same philosophy about houseplants, which I also enjoy. Since both give me such pleasure, I think the money on replacements is well spent.

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  11. Hi there, I so understand your gardening revelations. My garden is just thinking about coming out of winter hibernations, I love it when a bulb suddenly pops up to tell me spring is on the way. One of my favourite songs is “The Rose” its a bout life’s lessons too.

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    • I love that song, Lynne,and it’s message. I also know what you mean by the thrill of that first bulb, which reassures me spring will break through the cold and snow and I’ll soon be outside gardening again. So nice to hear from you.

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  12. Oh it is a paradise you call a garden! Stunning.
    The lesson I learned in my Irish wilderness: roses have the heart of serial killers and smile nicely while you nearly bleed to death and ivy always, always will grow back. You do a marvelous job!

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  13. I love love LOVE this. Might be my favorite so far. Not sure if it’s relevant, but I’m a really terrible gardener. Hope I’m better at life… 🙂

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