Inner Gardening: Spring Practice
What Springtime Gardening Teaches Us About Life, Possibility, and Nurturing Growth
Last night I dreamt of cherry blossoms. Small puffs of white and pink with tiny yellow nodules. Some were clinging to branches. Others floated through the air like fat snowflakes, slowly spiraling downward, toward the dewy grass between my toes. A gust of spring wind came, and with it the smell of rain. The confetti of petals danced on the wind, encircling me in a haze. Then, on the last thread, they whirled onward, toward the horizon and out of sight.
In springtime, the sound of trickling water signals the snow melting in the warmth of a brighter sun. The smell of damp earth indicates the thawing of the ground. The first fuzzy buds begin to form and shoots of green peek through the soil. The plants are waking from their winter dormancy. The birdsong we hear at dawn introduces a different tune - a chipper note in contrast to the quiet Winter mornings of which we’ve become accustomed. The blossoms begin to unfold. The insects and earthworms stir, and newborn animals take their first step, or flight, in this world. We, as humans, feel the need to go outside, shed our heavy coats, then let the sun kiss our skin.
The energy of life, and possibility, is palpable.
These seasonal changes that occur are more than just natural spectacles - they are cues for our own seasonal living habits. To the gardener, they are prompts to pick up shovel and seed, then get to work. To the mindful, they are cues to begin a different type of tending - an internal sort of gardening.
Spring is a season of new beginnings, renewed life and creativity. The themes are possibility, growth, and blossoming. It is a season of reawakening to what is possible. Of all the natural phenomenons that happen in springtime, the first blossoms are always the most exciting. Cherry blossoms, usually one of the first to bloom, mark the onset of Spring. They serve as a symbol - a reminder that life is cyclical, always renewed, and beautiful. Because of their fleeting nature, they are a visual reminder to slow down and enjoy the present moment. It will be over all too soon.
For centuries, cultures around the world have cherished the first blossoms of spring. However, none so much as the Japanese. Every Spring, Japanese families and friends gather to celebrate the wonder of the cherry blossoms. They celebrate with feasts and music as they sit under billowing canopies of pink and white. What exactly are they celebrating and honoring, though? The beauty and transience of life. The beautifully imperfect. The fleeting moment. The renewal of life after death.
Tied to the Buddhist themes of mortality, mindfulness and living in the present, Japanese cherry blossoms are a timeless metaphor for human existence. Blooming season is powerful, glorious and intoxicating, but tragically short-lived — a visual reminder that our lives, too, are fleeting. - Helen Suk, Travel Writer
For gardeners, the cherry blossom (or any blossom, for that matter) represent this symbolism and more. The blossom, in all of it’s fleeting glory, also represents potential and possibility. After the flower blooms, it likely becomes pollinated by wind or insect. If the flower becomes fertilized through pollination, it dies off, then fruit begins to form. From the fruit, seeds are born, creating possibility of another generation.
When I gaze upon the first buds of spring and contemplate their lifecycle over the course of this season, I can’t help but recognize that these delicate little buds represent another metaphor for human existence. They represent the beauty of uncertainty.
As a gardener, I know that not every blossom is destined to be pollinated this Spring. Not every pollinated flower is guaranteed to bear fruit. Not every fruit is promised to be beautiful, tasty, or unspoiled. Furthermore, not every fruit will bear seeds that are guaranteed to take root and grow to their fullest potential.
There are a thousand different ways Nature will alter the course of the blossom’s journey to fruition. This premise alone is why plants have evolved to create so many Springtime blossoms. This habit was born out of their need to increase their chance of fertilization, fruition, and the potential for continuation.
What’s fascinating is that plant’s ability to control the outcome of each blossom’s journey ceases pretty early on in the process. They cannot control which blossom ensures a new generation, nor how many reign successful. The tree can only create the possibility - the rest is up to Nature.
Of all the life lessons we can learn from blossoms, this is perhaps one of the most challenging to accept, yet most rewarding when we do. It is the lesson of embracing the uncertainties of life, relinquishing control, then enjoying the beauty of becoming.
Certainly easier said than done, I know. For someone who has a tendency to over-plan in an effort to gain some control in my life, this lesson is the toughest for me to put into practice. I am the first to admit that my knee-jerk reaction to relinquishing control manifests as anxiety and fear. I’m learning, though, that this mindset does not serve me well. It blinds me from seeing the infinite possibilities that abound. It prevents me from experiencing the joyous freedom that accompanies detachment. Although I strongly believe that what blossoms from possibility is cultivated in preparation, preparation can only take us so far.
Yes, it is true that we can, and should, plant seeds of intention, then adopt practices that will nurture growth. This can be a very effective strategy that yields incredible reward. However, I have come to learn that there are infinite possible outcomes, infinite uncertainties in life - even when we try our hardest to cultivate specific results. The bottom line - we can only control so much.
I believe that what becomes the distinguishing difference between being a happy person and an unhappy person is how we decide to react when undesirable outcomes occur. Do we choose to get angry and blame life, ourselves, or others? Or, do we choose accept what is, then embrace the twists and turns and learn from our experience?
It is possible to choose to view each experience for what it is instead of letting our emotions distort our perspective. We each have the power to view our experiences as a lesson, an opportunity for something new, a passing moment of which value and beauty can be garnered, or an imperfect mark that makes us dynamic and enhances our uniqueness.
“Acceptance means saying: This is where I am. The vase is smashed. The marriage is broken. The business is struggling. I am lonely. My child is upset. Whatever is going on, this is what is, right now. This is what is happening (observing it, not resisting it). This is how much it really matters (if at all). This is the beginning of all that is to come and this is what I’m going to do next.”
- Beth Kempton, Wabi Sabi; Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life
Making the conscious decision to relinquish control and embrace what comes next is not a weak or powerless action. It is courageous! Empowering actions like this make the difference between playing an active role in our personal evolution and letting our experiences determine our happiness.
The Springtime blossoms are our beautiful teachers in nature. They share the message that life is short, imperfect, and cyclical. They bring tidings of potential and possibility. They also teach us that at some point in our journey, letting go and accepting the process of becoming is not only possible but necessary for happiness and growth. At the start of this new and exciting season, allow the delicate blossoms of nature be your guide and ally in this season of life.
Wisdom From Spring Blossoms
Life itself is fleeting and nothing lasts forever. Slow down to cherish the present moment. Your life is happening right here, right now. Beauty is rendered in the transient, impermanent, and imperfect aspects of life.
Nature, and life, are cyclical. After death comes renewed life.
Life bears infinite possibility. What blossoms from possibility is cultivated in preparation. The universe has no absolutely fixed agenda. When you make a decision, a series of possibilities unfolds and shifts with each thought, feeling and action. Allow yourself to be open to seeing the possibility that surrounds you.
Embracing The Uncertain
There are always uncertainties in life. Change is inevitable. Be open to what may transpire next. Embrace the journey and the beauty of the unknown. Plant seeds of intention and do what you can to nurture growth, but know when to let go of control and enjoy the adventure.
GARDENING OUR INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL LANDSCAPES: SPRING PRACTICE
Spring Gardening Tips
Plan your garden
Although it’s best done during the dead of winter, there is still a bit of time to plan your garden in early spring. Discover what plants you want to plant, then sort out where and when you’ll plant them. By re-planting crops after an early harvest, you can extend the harvest season, as well as grow a broader variety of edible plants. When you are limited on space, you may consider a companion planting method where you plant fast growing crops like lettuce, near slower growing crops like cabbage.
Know your zone
Knowing your climate hardiness zone will help you know what to plant and when. Colder zones will allow for hardy, cool season crops to be planted early in the growing season whereas tender and heat loving plants, will require later outdoor planting times. Your zone will also help you select plants that will thrive in your climate.
In early Spring, prune trees to inspire growth in the right places. Prune out the dead branches, as well as the shoots raising up from the ground around the base of the trunk. Prune out the shoots that grow downward toward the ground. Shape fruit tree into the general shape of a satellite, where the center of the tree is open to receive more light. Prune 80-90% of grape vines, leaving only the main two to four vines (that run horizontally from the trunk) intact. Prune about 30-40% of Pear, and stone-fruit trees like Peach, Apricot, Plum, and Cherry trees. Only prune about 20% of Apple trees.
Avoid compacting the soil and disrupting the soil structure and texture through tilling when the ground is wet in the springtime. Because you added compost and soil amendments in the Fall, there is no need to do anything to the soil in the Spring. It should be ready to start planting! You can however, take a soil sample and get it tested to see if the soil is lacking in any nutrients. Testing the soil will give you a good idea of what types of fertilizers you’ll need to use in your garden based on the types of plants you choose to grow.
Begin a compost pile
If you don’t have a compost pile already started, Spring is an excellent time of year to begin your pile. Choose a space outdoors that is between 3’ X 3’ X 3’ - 5’ X 5’ X 5’. Begin adding your kitchen scraps, and green and brown yard waste to the pile. Avoid citrus, meat, dairy, oil, human waste, synthetic materials, and diseased or molding plant matter. Keep the pile moist and churn weekly to oxygenate. Your compost pile will not be ready to mix into your garden soil until it takes on the appearance of dark rich soil. Likely not until the coming fall, or spring of next year.
Before weather is warm enough for plants to grow outside, start planting seeds indoors. Using grow lights is highly recommended for optimal plant growth. Planting seeds can be more affordable and more sustainable than buying starter plants from a mass growing nursery. However, if you are short on space and cannot set up shelves with grow lights, then find a reputable organic local grower to purchase plants from. After seedlings are strong enough, and the chance of frost has passed, transfer the seedlings outside to your garden bed. Some cold hardy plants can or need to be planted prior to the last frost. Remember to keep your plastic containers to use next year, or donate them to your local grower.
Plant cool season crops
As soon as soil is workable, plant your cold hardy crops such as artichoke, broccoli, brussel sprouts, strawberries, kale, radish, chives, and spinach. For small spaces, you can replant peas, lettuce, radish and spinach every two weeks (after each harvest time) to extend their harvest season.
Fertilize Spring bulb flowers
In early spring, as soon as ground is workable, fertilize any bulb flowers that you planted last fall. These flowers will be the first to rise out of the ground and bring color and life into your garden. They will also provide the first nectar for pollinator insects that are waking up after a long and cold winter.
Plant your garden
After the last chance of frost has passed, plant the remainder of your veggie patch as well as ornamental plants, shrubs, and trees.
When weather warms and plants begin to grow, begin weeding as necessary. Mulching your flower and garden beds is an excellent way to minimize weeds as well as retain moisture so you can water less frequently. Mulch is also a fantastic way to make garden beds look well manicured.
Install or turn on irrigation system
In the late Spring, after Spring run-off has stopped and the rain storms have subsided, begin supplemental watering with your irrigation system. Sustainable irrigation systems include a drip hose and water meter so that the amount of water used for plant growth can be better controlled. Try using a water measuring device to check the moisture of your soil throughout the season to ensure you are watering just enough.
Beware of late frosts
In late Spring, depending on your climate zone, late frosts are still possible. When nurturing young plants remember to keep an eye on nighttime temperatures. If temperatures drop below freezing, then cover your new plants with a blanket or tarp to help insulate them from the deadly cold.
SPring Mindfulness Practices
Use these springtime occurrences as prompts to enhance your mindfulness practices this season. As you nurture your personal growth through my concept of Internal Gardening, you’ll be working to increase your self awareness and cultivate an intentional life.
Thaw | Renewal of Life | Awakening
Become aware of the opportunities that surround you. Try tracking your internal dialog and communication with others. You may notice that your words are creating a perspective that could be hampering growth. If you are going through a particularly challenging or uncertain time, try to reframe your perspective by brainstorming as many positive opportunities as you can. Allow yourself to be open to receiving feedback from someone you trust.
Creatively express yourself. Try a new art, hobby, or project. Bring new energy into your environment by bringing flowers inside and letting your home or workspace air out on a sunny day. Play off the renewed energy that abounds and become more physically active and social. Move your body, go outside, exercise, and reevaluate your physical nourishment.
Shed the heavy layers holding you back from freedom and strategic growth. Give yourself permission to let go of the elements in your life that weigh you down or cast a shadow on your outlook. Just like trees are pruned to guide proper growing, discover what you can prune within yourself, your life, projects, or relationships to guide your growth this season. Declutter and simplify your home. Freshen up your living and work space to inspire renewed creativity.
Identify specific areas you want to grow in your career, personal life, relationships, etc. Continue to nurture the seeds and intentions you planted in fall because this could be their time to bloom. Determine what your intentions are for this new season of growth.
Of all the possibility that surrounds you, you have the power to choose how you’ll invest your attention and energy. Identify your opportunities then decide which ones you’ll accept and which opportunities you’ll reject. Create new habits, or revisit lost practices, that support growth in the areas you are focusing on.
Identify and honor the transient elements in your life. Pause to enjoy the fleeting moment at least once a day. Express gratitude for and see the beauty in the impermanent. Identify the “blossoms” that are in your life at the moment.
Beware of the mindless actions that can damage young growth in your life. Thoughtfully safeguard and protect what you are nurturing.
To aid you in your efforts to mindfully sync with the Spring season, I have created a workbook full of journal prompts that coincide with the mindfulness practices I’ve listed above. The questions you ask yourself in this process will inspire that deep internal work that will kickstart, or supplement, your connection to nature and a slower, more mindful, way of life.
I’m curious, what lessons do you learn from Springtime?