I'm really not a very experienced gardener. That's not to say that I don't have a lifetime of exposure to gardening, but, aside from house plants, my own efforts have been fairly limited to some herbs, a few vegetables, and a random sampling of flowers (with an emphasis on random and sampling). After years of trial and error (with an emphasis on error), my approach to gardening has evolved into something practical and low maintenance...I plant sage, basil, rosemary, and thyme for cooking; tomatoes and peppers because I use them almost daily; flowers for color; and lavender for luck.
Years ago, I became very frustrated with my gardening skills. I spent hours reading gardening books as if they were some sort of bible filled with mysterious knowledge. I obsessed over my plants, but was never quite able to figure out appropriate watering schedules and was overwhelmed by the concept of adequate soil preparation. So, I gave up. I resigned myself to simply enjoy the wildflowers and honeysuckle vines that filled my yard and developed my love for farmers' markets that could provide me with veggies so beautiful I couldn't imagine them ever growing in my sad patch of dirt. I stuffed silk flowers in my vases and read my beloved gardening books like novels...filled with pure fiction and interesting characters. Then, just as I was embracing my non-gardening life, our daughter, Gentry, brought home a small potted plant.
It was a school project. Apparently, they had planted some sort of seed and, once it sprouted, they had to take it home and monitor it's growth. My anxiety was almost overwhelming. I was clearly not emotionally prepared. All of my nurturing skills were reserved for the kids, the dogs, and my yoga students with very little left over. But, since systematically destroying Gentry's science project was not an option, I did what I do best...I took a deep breath.
Gentry wasn't sure what the plant was, exactly, only that it was some sort of bean, so, I couldn't run to one of my beloved gardening books and determine it's moisture to sunlight ratio. With few other options, I approached this plant just like I approach my yoga practice...organically. When the soil felt dry, I watered it. When the plant seemed to droop, I moved it to a sunnier spot. When it was warm outside, I set it on the deck. When it was cold, I set it on the stove. Most importantly, I loved this little plant...and I'm sure it felt that love: in my touch, in my breath, in the sound of my voice. Unintentionally, I was practicing the essence of what has become my signature approach to gardening...ahimsa.
Ahimsa is a doctrine found in both Hindu and Buddhist religions. Now, to be fair, I'm neither Hindu nor Buddhist, but the concept of ahimsa is mirrored in Christianity by the Golden Rule...do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's simply a celebration of all life; recognizing that every life is sacred and requiring that we treat the living world with respect; that we commit to do no harm in thought or deed. Even the Native Americans recognize the sacredness of life, requiring that when we consume nature, we understand that we are absorbing a type of spiritual energy and that we do no harm...ask permission, take only what we need, and say thank you...all done with a heart filled with love.
I loved that little plant. And it grew. The first few inches amazed me. The next few inches required a new pot. Several inches later, we re-potted again...and it continued to grow. I came to believe that every time I looked at it, it grew an inch, eventually overwhelming my kitchen window and winding it's way down into the sink and over the counter. I never did anything particularly special for this little plant...but I made sure to do no harm.
I never really thought I would have a philosophy about gardening, but I've come to believe ahimsa is the key. I've got several pots of flowers this spring. A couple of my pots are hold-overs from last year. They should have died off months ago (they were never designed to survive the winter), but a little water, a warm stove, sunshine on a pretty day, and a little pruning kept them flowering all winter long. Just the other day, I noticed my hyacinth beginning to bloom. They look so fresh and smell amazing and, as with my yoga practice, my relationship with these lovely flowers is intuitive...a little water if the soil feels dry, plenty of sunlight, and a lot of love. Most importantly, I will simply try to do no harm.
Oh, and as for those gardening books...a couple stacked up and my potted pansies are just the right height to soak in a little morning sunshine!