Connecting to Plants: One by One. Year by Year.
Wisconsin is a lush place. We receive a great deal of rain most years, have four distinct seasons, and feature a vast canvas of different ecosystems from wetlands to Oak savannas to deep forests. This vibrant and green place is home to a multitude of amazing plants. Even in the city, the native flowers and plants push their way through sidewalks and parking lots. When I lived in the country it was so easy to connect to this plant life. The city, on the other hand, took me a little while to find ways of communing with plants. The easiest place for me to connect is in my community garden.
A community garden is a place where neighbors and friends come together to grow a little bit of food or fun. Most gardens charge a small yearly fee to members to cover the cost of rent and water. Gardeners are required to keep their plots tidy and assist with group spaces and projects. Madison is lucky to have a flourishing community garden scene. We have large gardens and small gardens. Our gardens are filled with different languages and amazing plants from all over the world. It really is one of my happy places.
The community garden is also one of the best examples I have of living my Druid faith. To keep my plot healthy and productive I must work with the land. I must be aware of the changing seasons and the weather patterns. I must look for the signs of rain and the coming of frost. To grow the juiciest tomatoes I must plant flowers and vegetables as food for pollinators all year round. I must also care for my compost and soil honoring the power of death and decay. These gifts and responsibilities are treasures that bring me connection with the land and a playground for my Druidry.
For all the gifts and fun that gardening can provide, gardening can be overwhelming, especially to beginners. There is too much to do and too many different resources all touting different philosophies to discern what really is the best way to do anything in the garden. It’s one of the reasons that I recommend those new to gardening to focus on one or two plants for their first season. You cut out all the noise and distraction when you spend all your time getting to know a single plant species.
You start by picking out the best seed. Find a plant that you know you like, either the sight of it or the taste of it. Let’s say you want to work with Kale. It’s a hearty green that grows well in multiple seasons and has varieties that work in almost any climate. So, you spend some time reading seed catalogs or just grab the prettiest one you can find. Then you prep your soil, maybe you add some compost or decide to do sheet mulching. Finally, you plant your seed, water it, and wait. Waiting can be the hardest part! When it grows and begins to produce, you learn how to harvest it. You discover kale can be harvested multiple times. You eat it with relish and put it into all kinds of new recipes. Perhaps you even get sick of eating it because it’s growing too well. Neglect might come but the plant still carries on. With a little attention and care you might even get it to go to seed or you learn how to overwinter it so that you might have fresh greens into the first snows of the season. All of this care and attention and yes, even the neglect, is a beautiful way to begin to connect with nature. It’s a method that teaches you about one plant and gives you the skills to try other plants and gardening techniques in future years.
This same process is how we approach any meaningful journey including our spiritual journeys. We give our practices energetic attention at the beginning and gain confidence. Sometimes we learn a lot and sometimes we fail. When we fail we plant again and grow new fruits for spiritual paths. With the right care and attention our spiritual life can grow and support us. It changes according to the land we live on and the climate we are faced with.
Every year my garden is a little different. I have favorites that I always love and use, but I also always try something a bit new. Some years I’m incredibly successful and my freezer and canned jars are proof of that success. However, some years I’m distracted and only harvest a little from my garden or I’m faced with drought or disease that keeps me frustrated all season long. This is the same thing that happens to my spiritual practice. It changes, grows, and succeeds according to the care I give it and the dynamic world I’m faced with. I never give up altogether. The next year is always a hopeful chance for me to learn even more and to become closer to the plants that sustain me.
If you’d like to read more about Community Gardens, please check out this post about joining a garden.