Photograph: Jenn Forman Orth (Flickr)
Once a year over Christmas and New Year I go on an all-out gardening binge. A real bender. As with most binges there are some not so lekker consequences. Like getting up in the morning. Every year I am stiffly reminded that gardening is gym by another name. It is all lunges and squats, in the mud rather than the mirror.
My binge gardening consists mainly of pulling things out the ground. It always seems that the stuff I do not want to grow – grows obsessively. Without assistance at all – popping up here there and everywhere. Attaching to this and that and basically taking over everything in their path – including the path. Growing and going where they know they are not supposed to grow and go. All without a care in the world. Trespassing anarchists.
So, I pull them out and cut them back – hacking and chopping and digging – snipping and pruning just don’t cut it. Overwhelmed and impatient, I hire someone with a weed-eater thingy to mow the “invasives” down. But a week or so later they respond with revenge, spawning a 100 fold more. I multiply what I try to defeat. These plants demand to be respected enough to be removed at their root or not at all.
Conversely, almost everything that I want to grow, grows so s-l-o-w-l-y. Sloth-like. I wish the creepers would hurry up and creep up to provide shade, but they stubbornly refuse to stretch skyward. Why are they so slow to do what they are born to do and what their label promises they will do? Surely they can’t be afraid of heights.
And it is these plants – the ones I hope to hurry up and grow, rather than the others that attract dodgy company. Parasitic company. This then demands loads of my time and attention. Gloves-off attention. Finicky-finger attention. The worst is the exceedingly passionate and persistent parasite called dodder laurel that goes by the common and disarming name, love vine. No doubt because it clings so tightly to the host plant. Each string-like-strand curling round the stems or branches of the host must be individually removed by gently undoing their sticky twines. There is no other way to do it without harming the host. There are no short cuts. Uncurling. Unlearning. Undoing attachments. Ultimately liberating and healing.
Finally, planting never fails to feel foolish. I look at the size of the tomato seeds with suspicion. Each seed simply looks too small to carry their promised nourishment. So, every season I must fight the temptation to not sprinkle a couple of seeds into each finger-poked-bed of soil. Living in a more-is-better-world, my planting mantra becomes: One is enough. One is enough. One is enough.
I am not sure if Paul was a gardener, but I have a feeling he may have been, after all he wrote about planting with Apollos watering and God making it grow [1 Corinthians 3:6]. More to the point in the light of my own gardening experience, Paul wrote: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” [Romans 7:19]. There are few words in all of literature that so acutely describe our human condition as these. I invite you to consider the truth of them in your own life. If gardening doesn’t fit, what is the metaphor you would use to describe how this plays out for you?