I have to garden. For me gardening is elemental. It’s about immersing myself in the dirt, air, and phenomena of nature.
I read about plants, compost, insects. But that’s not the real learning my garden yields. My garden is a classroom about all life, an exhibition on cycles of inception to decay to rebirth, a primer on behaviors and adaptations, a refuge of revelation.
Whatever I’m pondering, getting down in the dirt with the worms and the microbes usually helps me sort through it. I’ve found a ton of answers to big and convoluted questions in my garden.
One day, I was pulling a hundred or more morning glory vines from my back flower bed. I rose to find my neighbor, a friend, weeping. She disclosed that her beloved daughter had overdosed on heroin and was clinging to life in a hospital bed. After comforting my friend as best I could, I returned to my garden.
I couldn’t help seeing the plant as that sweet girl, wondering if life was being pulled as ruthlessly from her as I was yanking out root systems. A pedestrian metaphor, and weeding that needed doing, I dug deeper.
I began noticing the morning glory’s habit. Were it not so hell-bent on strangling all its supports, it would be lovely – masses of heart-shaped leaves on miles of tender vines, offering happy white, blue, pink or purple blossoms opening to the morning sun. In fact, I’ve lived other places where Morning Glories are prized.
So, is the plant the daughter, heroin or the addiction? Fingers black with digging, torn vines weeping out their milky life, and searching for a usable reference, the wider condition revealed itself. The daughter is the entire garden, with unseen bedrock, soils exhausted here, enriched there, water stagnant under one plant, sucked dry by another, spread by yet others. Her life is as varied in texture, color, needs and gifts as my garden.
The daughter was medicating a systemic need, not wholly different from my over-fertilizing the roses. She sought solution from a lethal substance. She almost died. Working through my shock and despair over her situation, and anguish for her loving mother, my attention kept returning to the vines’ habit.
I could not simply cut the vine back from view and expect it to die, no more than resuscitating the daughter would kill her addiction. Each vine and vein had to be followed to its tangled root, unearthed, pulled from the ground that sustained them.
I shared my insight with the mother. Excavations continued. Earth was overturned. And new seeds from more sustainable stock planted. It can take years to change the balance of weeds to desirables in a garden. But, with luck and love, blossom it will.