“You’re the meaning in my life, you’re the inspiration.”
The lyrics of this song by the band Chicago, circa 1984, played over and over in my head the past few days as winter gave way to spring and the first bits of greenery began poking through the ground.
The practical reasons to garden are many: fresh air, sun on your shoulders, exercise, beautification to garden, the one that produces a universally meaningful impact on all who partake is as pure and simple as they come. Inspiration.
With so much outer noise constantly invading our lives, finding a quiet space for our thoughts to breathe and percolate has almost become an act of defiance, a raging against the machine in order to stay grounded.
I have learned to protect time in my place of retreat as fiercely as a mama bear does her young cub.
In hindsight, my decision to start gardening over 20 years ago was a similar act of rebellion, to offer proof of existence as I felt parts of myself slipping away.
As a young mother, my garden provided a place to plant seeds and watch them grow, unaffected by other demands. Regardless of the increasing number of days spent feeling overjoyed, overwhelmed and sometimes isolated, I could trust those flowers to reward my care by blooming again and again as though they knew they were my lifeline.
I have gardened ever since.
In the years that followed, my garden has proven to be a reliable teacher. When I chose the wrong spot for a plant and it didn’t thrive, I heard nature’s voice encouraging me not to give up but to simply pivot and try another location. Plants must often be moved from their original space in order to optimize their ability to flourish. Isn’t the same true of every living thing?
Small adjustments to our environments can make the difference between holding on and letting go of the things we hold dear. It’s okay. No one gets it right every time.
In an era of “helicopter parenting,” I’ve understood the importance of dedicated care of young plants unable to reach deeply into the soil for their own nourishment; and, conversely, the damage of overwatering once a plant has begun to establish its roots.
I’ve gained patience for my children as they have tried again and again to accomplish something on their own, and rather than stepping in, have tried to make room for them to experience their own growth.
Give tender plants good soil, the best start you can, some nurturing and time to adapt to the conditions. Help them find their best light and turn toward it. They will grow to fill the space they are given. It’s a delicate dance we do as parents and grandparents, but any time I’ve been at a loss for which way to proceed, observing how nature does things has provided the best example I could ever ask for.
As my plants are to each other, so I’ve become a better companion. Developing an appreciation for the unique qualities of each bloom and its contribution to the overall garden has taught me to view my friends and family through a similar lens. Some of them are roses. They have thorns and open slowly, but become more captivating as they unfold. You have to invest for their reward.
Some are lilies, bold, colourful and unabashed. You know when they have entered the room! Some are unpredictable, like wildflowers, showing up with a breath of whimsy when least expected — and most needed. Some are long-lasting, like the hydrangea that buds early and blooms late into the fall. You can always count on her. Others, such as vines, prefer to ramble. They need a trellis so they can reach for the sky. Who am I to tell a vine she shouldn’t climb?
Challenging each other to reach our fullest bloom fosters acceptance of different perspectives, an understanding of how to best help each other, and an opportunity to be part of a more beautiful bouquet. When we learn to respect another’s growth, we accelerate our own.
As much as it has taught me to hold on, my garden has also guided me toward knowing when to remove plants that are no longer beneficial. Despite all best efforts, when a perennial is shading others from light for too long, or impacting cohabitants in other negative ways, its removal may be the only way to ensure the collective continues to thrive. A hard truth to accept in gardens, and in life.
Nature’s wisdom has become firmly implanted in my life. It calls me to take chances in new directions. Patience, compassion and forgiveness of myself for getting things wrong in pursuit of getting them right has allowed me to be more lenient with others who are doing the same.
The hardest lesson for this gardener, when to let go in my family life, is still being learned.
Although the transition to becoming an empty nester in recent years has not always been smooth, as I loosen the ties that are no longer necessary to keep those young trees upright, I am welcoming beautiful new opportunities into my life.
Time to write, compose, plant, grow and nurture dreams I had set aside, as well as to volunteer, are growing to fill the spaces they are being given. A deeper appreciation of the many gifts of clarity, shelter and musical inspiration my garden has offered over these many years has settled in.
You don’t have to identify as a “creative” to reap the life-affirming benefits of time spent in partnership with nature. In an ever-changing world of new challenges, and career and family transitions, you need look no further than the great outdoors to hear your inner voice. It’s a gift available to each of us.
I encourage you to consider planting a flower pot, or window box or first small garden bed. There isn’t much in life that is certain, but if you can open yourself to nature’s whispers along the way, you might just experience a little unexpected growth of your own. Inspiration guaranteed.
More Inspiration: Check out this inspiring article on dreaming big.
Author: Linda Brooks is an author and award-nominated singer-songwriter who shares more of the lessons her garden has taught her in her first book, Orchestra In My Garden: Lessons Learned From Digging Deep. It includes a download code for 22 original songs inspired by her garden and the beautiful photography of award-winning photographer Mark Maryanovich.
She lives in the seaside town of Bedford, Nova Scotia.