The Liberated Life Guide: Gardening as a Practice
This post comes from Lauren Ayer. A San Francisco transplant, she now makes her home and garden in Northern New Mexico.
Gardening as a Practice
by Lauren Ayer
Gardening is my passion. It brings me joy and peace, a meditative practice, challenges and heartaches, and a tangible way to help make a difference in the world.
Gardening is a sensory experience. It pulls you out of yourself and into the bigger picture. It teaches you about interdependence, about the cycles of life, and about the transitory nature of all things.
Here is how the garden speaks to me, but it doesn’t matter whether you have a 300 square foot vegetable plot or a single African violet on a windowsill. Any one or all of these steps can work for you:
1. Start with your eyes.
Eat your breakfast or enjoy your afternoon tea looking out into your garden. Eat slowly, giving your mind time to settle into that green space. The longer you sit, the more you will notice – a newly forming flower bud, a suspect spot or curl of leaf, a lizard hiding under a branch, a bumble bee, the beginnings of a patch of weeds. Do nothing. Make no mental lists. Just notice the space and the details, small and large, within it.
2. Walk outside.
Chances are, after completing step one, you won’t be able to resist. The garden will call you to join it. But don’t succumb to the urge to get to work right away. Spend a moment just being with it. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Take in the lush green scent or sharp dryness. Notice the top notes – a blooming rose, the scent of warm herbs. Run your fingers across them if you like, taking their scent onto your skin. Notice then, the bottom notes – the smell of earth, warm flagstone, your compost pile. Embrace the rot. It is what keeps the cycle alive.
3. Move in close and touch the leaves.
Turn them over to see if anyone is hiding there. Feel the texture of flower petals, of rough bark, of fuzzy leaves. Reach down into the dirt without your gloves. Notice if it’s warm or cool. Dry or moist. Your fingers will tell you what it needs. Listen and give to each plant what it asks for, one at a time.
4. When the work is done, sit and listen – to the breeze in the leaves, the buzz of the bees, the birds in the trees.
Witness all the aliveness that surrounds you, both visible and hidden. Feel it pulsing through you, becoming part of you, to help ground you through your day.
5. If you have herbs or other edibles in your garden, take a tiny taste of one small leaf.
Sorrell or romaine, rosemary or mint… Let it fill your mouth with its wild green, making that garden a part of what creates you every day.
It doesn’t matter if you have 5 minutes or three hours. If your garden is large and your time short, pick one corner, one plant, one flower. It doesn’t even matter if you have no garden at all.
Pick a houseplant to look at, really look at. Sink your fingers into its pot. Feel its roots grow and grow with them. Or visit a friend’s garden, a park, the woods. Look more closely at the weed-riddled median in the center of your road.
And speaking of weeds, please do not consider them a foe to be vanquished, but rather a teacher to be respected.
When I lived in San Francisco, I had a huge garden with a view of the ocean. It was beautiful, but completely overrun with Cape oxalis, one of San Francisco’s most invasive and persistent weeds. Everyone told me to put down weed barrier or spray herbicides, whatever it took to get rid of it all.
But for me, that carpet of green was beautiful and getting down on my knees with my hands in the dirt to clear a vegetable patch one small oxalis bulb at a time really helped me feel connected to my garden – the plants and the soil, the water and sky. It got me out there every morning to check on the progress of each squash seedling making sure they hadn’t been overrun. And those weeds kept me there, noticing things I would never have seen had I blanketed the dirt with plastic and set automatic sprinklers.
What’s most important in the garden is whatever gets you outside. Beyond that, it’s just being there that matters, whether pulling weeds, tilling soil, planting seeds, or simply enjoying the flowers. All help to ground you in the earth and the world and connect you to something bigger, putting all that bad news on the television, your child’s ear infection, or the politics at work into clearer perspective.
Outside things grow. They live and die. The sun shines, or it rains. It doesn’t matter. The garden is there, and so are we.
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