We are only afforded a small plot of land in this life, but as Candide reminds us, even stubborn pieces of ground can yield a plentiful crop. Gardens are at times beautiful, dressing themselves in the vibrant colors of spring. Flowers bloom, leaning toward the sunlight; crops thrive, nourishing us. But gardens also suffer, languishing through the harsh realities of winter. Gardens are at times somewhere in between—like those that tend them—always trying to find a better way to flourish.
Gardens require constant attention and careful work. The art of gardening takes patience and consistency. A garden must constantly be revisited. Adjustments need to be made. Things must be added or taken away in proper proportion. Cultivation does not happen by chance, but only through the adherence to a precise plan rendered by an astute mind. But the plan needs flexibility, as each coming day will be different than the one before, and the mind needs discipline, because knowing what to do and actually doing it are not the same thing.
Teachers are at best gardeners. Our tools are simple. A clear head and steady hands do most of the work. There is no sitting and philosophizing over great quandaries. There is only rolling up sleeves and getting hands dirty. There is much to toil. Only under the right conditions, will the results yield what is intended. Hopefully, we get at least what is needed.
The life of a gardener is a difficult one, and the best way to do it has been a topic of human discourse since before Socrates and Plato and Aristotle. We have much to learn of our craft and strive to be just a little better tomorrow than we were today. We know that there is always room to improve, but we want to be proud of what we have thus far created.
Gardeners have the amazing gift to do a lot with a little. We are so often at the mercy of our challenging environment. There is never enough money for all the things we need, but we make do. There are always those who think they know our garden better than we do, but we persist. We find other gardeners who think like us and share ideas. We reflect. We build our capacities. We learn from our mistakes. Like the things in our gardens, we grow too.
My garden is a place for gathering and talking and learning, an everyday place that reveals the human spirit. I’ve heard other people talk disparagingly about weeds in my garden, but I’ve never seen one. I’ve seen plants that have different needs, grow at a different pace, react unexpectedly. But I’ve never seen a weed in my garden. My garden accepts everything as it comes. We must be welcoming of all, to engage in the struggle with the isolation we feel, even when together. Otherwise we risk casting one out to an even greater isolation that exists in the margins. Good plants and bad plants? No. One is no better than another, just different, and they need only a few basic things, but most of all they need to know we will be there, day after day, regardless of the weather, to care for them, to nurture them, to help them grow. So that they might thrive.
We are all merely gardeners. We toil. We sweat. But little by little we can improve our gardens. And it is good to know that this work is not done alone, even when we feel like we work and live in solitude. Our work is the work of life. There can be no higher calling.