The idea of planting, nurturing and harvesting a garden has drifted dreamily in the back of my mind for years – a romantic notion that I can never seem to bring myself to act on in reality. In my verdant dreams, I wear the perfect floppy straw sunhat (with one of my hand-cut roses in the band, naturally), a lovely linen blouse slightly mussed from my toil in the earth and summer’s heat and next to me an antique woven basket holds the fruits, vegetables and flowers of my labor. (you know, like Martha Stewart – but more human) I imagine the act of gardening as slow, graceful and zen-like. The dream is wonderful. It’s the reality that overwhelms me. I’d need to create a space for a garden in my yard, get the bed ready, know what and when to plant and how to care for said plants, remember to water and weed, prune and pluck and so on and so on until my mind shuts down and says, “No thanks – I’ll pass.” Historically, I’ve done what most of us tend do when we’re overwhelmed – nothing at all…until now.
The reason? This season, I’ve decided to practice what I preach and take small steps to tip-toe into this whole gardening business. In fact, I’ve used several techniques from creativity coaching to help make this summer the one that I actually put some seeds in the ground and give gardening a whirl. How did I do it? How did I stop dreaming, procrastinating and being overwhelmed by the thought of it all? Like this…
First – I decided to have some child-like fun with the whole thing. Remember back in kindergarten, the thrill of sticking a seed in a Dixie-cup full of dirt and watching a tiny green bud appear only days later? Wanting to share that same kind of delightful, low-pressure experience with my daughter, Riley Anna, gave me the necessary nudge I needed. I stopped into my local garden center and ask for some easy-to-grow, hard-to-kill seeds to plant and left with three darling little packets of sunflower, zucchini, corn, and seeds each with a beautiful illustration on the front. This dovetails nicely into the next creativity coaching technique I used – small steps.
Rather than attempt a grand, planned out garden, I bypassed the idea of trying to plow the back forty in my backyard, and chose to start small…as small as you can really, with a few seeds. My daughter and I read the instructions on the back of the cute little seed packets and followed them – sort of. We used a raised planter in the backyard that had been home to some overgrown Mexican petunias for the last few summers (only because they’re hardy, perennial and spread like wildfire all on their own with no help from yours truly!). In truth, we stuck our new seeds in the dirt, covered them up with a little dirt, watered a bit and that was that. Which brings me to the next technique…lowering your expectations.
A great way to relieve pressure and cut ourselves a break when we’re trying our hand at something new (be it photography, baking, learning to play the flute or gardening) is to lower our expectations. You wouldn’t expect to be able to paint like Van Gogh on your first try, so letting go of the need to do something perfectly, or even well, when we first begin can lower the need to judge or grade our attempts and allow us to just have fun with it and, most importantly, begin. Since Riley Anna and I had never tried our hand at anything like this before, I decided that rather than get all worked up about planting everything perfectly, we’d simply have a good time with it. If green things began to sprout out from the earth in the next week or so – great, if not – then we’d had some fun digging in the dirt for an afternoon. For our purposes, having something edible or beautiful actually spring to life wasn’t in the criteria for success. So, several days later when the first bright green buds began to pop up out of the dirt, we were delighted and very pleased with ourselves. If something should actually manage to grow all the way to the point of being edible and make it onto our summer table we’ll be beside ourselves with joy! But if not, it’s been thrilling to watch the little buds grow larger with each passing day.
Although I didn’t wear a floppy sunhat (we weren’t outside for more than fifteen minutes tops) or carry a woven basket with me – I did feel a wonderful sense of joy and accomplishment even from the very amateur planting my daughter and I did together. And, is as usually the case, now that I’ve begun, taken a chance and taken that first small step of planting those first small seeds, I’m ready to go a little farther. This weekend – tomato plants!
© 2009 Jill Allison Bryan – all rights reserved