I give you permission to neglect.
When I was about 8 years old I found myself a patch of grass in our 1 acre yard, scratched at the matted earth with my fingernails, and barely buried a packet of radish seeds. I hadn’t dug up the grass. I never watered. It was my first taste of vegetable gardening. Not a single radish seed germinated, though the failure didn’t concern me in the least. Curiosity and a comfort with cluelessness guided me.
Years later I accidentally headed up a children’s gardening program. I was doing an Americorps program for a nonprofit and all the staff were fired or quit and only a few Americorps folk remained standing. I, who had barely managed to keep alive an indoor succulent, was charged with planning and planting the children’s vegetable garden. Everything I did I carried out with a a shrug and crossed fingers. I spent mornings in the greenhouse clumsily pinching at tiny seeds. I dubiously tended all the small green things that sprouted . Surprisingly, a children’s garden emerged. Veggies, herbs, and flowers all mostly survived my care. I had no idea what I was doing and I loved every minute of it. I realized for the first time that my thumb had some shade of green to it and I liked it.
I started reading about growing veggies incessantly. I volunteered then later worked on a number of small organic farms. When we bought a house in the suburbs with a double lot, I immediately turned the large stretch of grass facing the sun into a series of raised beds. I love every part of growing veggies, everything from drooling over seed catalogs in the winter to putting up a big harvest. But, my favorite thing has to be in the spring when I first lower my hands into the soil. Seeing the dark, dank work of time, worms, chickens, and rot. The soil is deep black and loamy. Threads of mycelium wend their way through patches of the beds. The first time in a season that I look down and see my fingernails caked with dirt never fails to make me smile. It sounds silly to say that working with soil grounds me, but it is totally true. It is my mooring and my ballast.
When we had our daughter, my time in the garden disappeared. I knew it would and had planned a much smaller, easy to manage veggie garden. But, being a gardener on hold was hard. Gardening has always been a form of creative expression for me. The garden becomes an extension of myself and the work of tending it my solace. Not gardening felt like part of me was lost and unmoored.
When I get depressed, it tends to be in the summer. Summer is boisterous, active, extroverted. At times when I need to rejuvenate, it feels like summer steals my calm from me. Gardening helps me find that calm in the summer. The slow, steadiness of the plants. Their total simplicity. The way my brain finally slows and quiets when I touch soil. I knew I wasn’t growing a garden because I was busy growing my daughter. But I still felt amiss. The unending momentum of summer, the busyness of parenting, and loss of time among my plants meant I struggled to find a place of serenity.
Plants have a certain kind of magic to them. It might seem like in my neglect of the garden would mean it would just lie fallow. But the garden tells a different story. Veggies I didn’t plant sprout from having self seeded last season or from the brown stalks of last year. The beds fill with weeds, medicinal plants, and plants that build good soil. The willingness to live and thrive is strong. The garden might not be planned or cultivated. But, it is fecund and lush. I make a habit of wandering among the weeds, occasionally harvesting plants for medicine or just picking the wild flowers for the house. The garden has become a more barbarian enterprise and I have come to appreciate this uncultivated plot. The summer rush finds a moment to ground and become more placid. My days aren’t as deeply entwined with the rhythms of the garden as it is when I have a vegetable bounty to grow and harvest. But, I get a taste of the coexistence. I miss my bursting vegetable garden. But, I am buoyed by the wild blooms of the garden. Watching the garden unveil itself without my gardening hand creates its own space for a moment of wonder and solace. When I can, I head out the side door of the house, cross the yard, stand at the edge of the beds, and take in a few slow breaths of wild green before turning on my heel and going back to the house.