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What I Learned While Gardening

It sounds strange to most folks, but there are few other places I enjoy more than being in my garden- yes, sitting in the dirt. Don't get me wrong, on a hot summer afternoon, I'll be at the lake or floating the river - once I've thinned the carrots, of course. Scientists around the globe have been as busy as bees trying to figure out why people like me enjoy time spent killing grub worms and shoveling compost. Are we just crazy? In the end, research has proven gardening releases the feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine; happiness which results from hard-work and productivity. So that dirt-smeared grin on my face when I come in from working on my knees is really real.

For me, the garden is my happy place. When the seed catalog arrives, I pour over it as if it were the Sears Christmas catalog.Year after year I marvel at the miracle of the seed; I experience real joy, an abundance of joy, as seedlings sprout. It just never gets old, which is why, of course, I have flowers and vegetables growing out of control and a hundred tomato plants in the greenhouse. It makes me so very happy. I marvel at the beauty in a flower, the diversity of plants. And then when that plant starts to produce food - oh man, I'm so proud and happy I must share it with everyone I know - in the form of zucchini and snap peas. I'm sure not every one understands it, but I feel like most people want to experience this genuine and simple joy.

Often friends and guests will regretfully confess that as much as they'd like to grow a patch of veggies or a few flowers, they just don't have a green thumb. This conversation usually occurs as they join me in the backyard or out in the garden for a "tour" or when we are in need of a tomato for dinner. As soon as they start to swoon or admire, I start apologizing over the mess - the weeds, the haphazard organization, the hops grown thick and sticking in their hair as they come through the gate. They think I am some sort of plant genie - growing equal numbers of flowers and veggies with little effort. Somehow they don't see all the weeds.

In truth, this happy mess has been a labor of love. Soil only gives out what you put into it. Gardening is not about instant gratification even though I'm joyful during the process. Growing a garden requires a hoe and shovel, but it also takes patience and persistence. It isn't always sunshine and rainbows; sometimes the deer get through the fence and nibble every single one of your pumpkins. It can be so disappointing. I have cried over frosted tomatoes. Some times you have to make due and accept what has been given. Grace is essential, especially if you can't afford a full-time gardener, which I'm assuming is pretty much every one but Martha. I've learned to accept there will be weeds. I've discovered I haven't the heart to pull up the renegade which some how persevered through the cold of winter on its own, unless the tenacious little sprout is cilantro - it's tempting but it will take over and seriously how many nights a week do you eat tacos? I've learned to let go of the need to primp and prune in order to impress, and instead admit it's all a work in progress.

Each year I'm amazed at the abundance of my garden. Growing in a northern climate isn't for the faint at heart. Some times I'm just happy to harvest before it snows! The season is short and full and I'm reminded often of the importance of being in the moment because by next week the colorful poppies will fade and the radishes will go to seed. We all experience seasons of abundance and then times of drought; I've learned it's ok to say yes to another gardener's zucchini when mine was wiped out by cutworms.

If you want to start a garden, here is my advice: remember that like pretty much every thing else - gardening is something which is learned. The skill is rarely mastered. There is more to the reward than a basket of fresh string beans or a bouquet of sunflowers. Tending plants and stewarding soil towards production, managing pests and weeds, collecting seeds or planting new varieties - each of these tasks require patience and study, trial and error. In a world of manicured lawns and cropped photos it can seem intimidating to dig in, unsure of what might come of the tiny packet of seeds in your hand. We hope for the Instagram photo, the Pintrest worthy plot and in the end might only end up with a sorry patch of beans which certainly lack magic. Offer yourself some grace. Like most everything, in gardening joy is found not in perfection but in choosing to get your hands dirty.

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