Comfortable with Chaos and 5 Other Lessons from the Garden

 

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A few years ago, a neighbor, surveying my “flower” garden of rambling lupine, Solomon’s seal, of swollen dandelion heads and raspy ferns, said evenly, “Hmm. It’s nice that you’re so comfortable with chaos.”

She was on to something. Not so much that I’m comfortable with chaos as in love with wildness. The garden brings me to the truth of growth and becoming in its haphazard, uneven beauty. If I want to enjoy it, there’s just no room for perfectionism.

And it happens that the garden is at its bloomingest right now: fireworks of allium, noble Siberian irises, unabashed peony. Each says something different. In amongst all that growth, the garden yields its richest and most instructive metaphors. Here are five lessons from my perfectly weedy, chaotic garden: 

1. Beauty matters. When I started gardening, I dismissed flowers as frivolous. “Only vegetables!” I declared. Later, I allowed that perennial flowers might have a place. Now I load up on annuals. Bring on the beauty! The time for flowering is now: in the soil, in that miraculous peony, and yes, in you. Let it bloom.

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2. Feed your soil. Imagine what might happen if you focused on the nourishment of your being – the mineral stuff that feeds you – rather than the products of your labor. Sleep, joy, food, solitude, connection. What might fruit when roots are tended to?

3. Dysfunction is information and invitation. Like the crick in your neck or the argument with your lover, weeds gesture to something amiss beneath the surface. All that purslane whispers: too much phosphorous. Inside the mess is information about what we need and an invitation to amend.

4. Building health works better than eradication. Weeds don’t go away. You can try to pull up all the quack grass, sure, or go after the volunteer tomatillos on your knees. But we cannot rid ourselves of dysfunction by excavation. Instead, we build into health over time: mulching, feeding, moving, listening, layering. Those weeds are never really gone, but they can be made quiet while the tomatoes sweeten and thrive.

5. Everything flowers. Not every year, not always obviously (and, yes botanists, we could split hairs on ferns and mosses…). But every plant possesses this gift. Who are we in our fullest expression? There’s more to say about this, but there’s no need, since Galway Kinnell says it most beautifully:

Saint Francis and the Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

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