Plants are great teachers and having a garden as a classroom is an easy way to learn their lessons and connect with nature. The only unfortunate thing about such an educational environment is that mistakes aren’t only unavoidable – they’re necessary. The result is always death. We’re lucky in that, unlike our ancestors, most of us can survive if our garden doesn’t do well. Only a few generations ago, crop failure could mean illness, starvation, and even death. This way of life is still reality for many people in other parts of the world. Failure in a patio garden, while not so devastating, is certainly humbling when you think about what life would be like if you depended on it.
You also have to learn to accept death in your plants and deal with it in regards to garden pests. Someone has to die – the plants or the pests. How you handle that can vary, but it is unavoidable. It’s very humbling to know that, despite your best efforts, entire crops can be devoured overnight.
Thankfully, I’m not dealing with a lot of crop failure or infestations this year. I am, however, playing with some new plants – like turnips. There is evidence that the Celts carved turnips around Samhain (Freeman, 312) and my husband and I have really taken that to heart in our own tradition. I thought it would be great to grow my own. I found a variety that supposedly does well in containers and got to work! I now realize that I planted them too late. As I watered my garden this morning, I noticed that a couple of my turnips had bolted. After researching, I realized I planted them too early. They don’t grow well in the high summer heat. Dismayed but not without hope, I brought them inside (a perk of container gardening) to the art room where they’ll be shaded but receive enough sun. I also thinned them out. Their pot was quite crowded!
The garden is a great laboratory – both culinary and magical. I’m learning about new varieties, how to properly care for plants, and how to harvest them. As I go about this, I talk and sing to the plants. I ask permission and tell them why I’m doing things. I thank them for their blessings and sustenance. I know that, one day, plants will grow from me and I remind them this when I take their lives. Although I used “laboratory” in my garden metaphor, I don’t view my plants as guinea pigs – rather, they are my partners in learning and existence. I treat them with respect and take their lessons to heart.
My next garden goal (besides planting more basil) is to try starting another worm bin. The last one I had ended badly and my hesitation to give it another go is based on guilt and worry. I now realize that I should only put vegetable waste in there. The bread was a bad idea… I also need to work harder to maintain a good balance between dryness and moisture. I want happy worms who survive and have babies! The small pile of turnip scraps made me realize that I really should start one again… and keep learning!
Freeman, Mara. Kindling the Celtic Spirit: Ancient Traditions to Illumine Your Life Throughout the Seasons. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Print.