The Focus Course

Lessons from Gardening

In an attempt to cultivate more quality leisure time in my life, I planted a garden this spring — because I need one more thing to keep up with.

In truth, even though the garden does require some upkeep, I’ve found it to be a massive rescue. It forces me to slow down after a long day, and if I’m too busy to work in the garden, that may be a sign that things are getting a bit out of hand.

I planned on building raised beds well before COVID-19, and if anything the pandemic proved a perfect time to plant new life. Gardening has been a welcome distraction amidst the global headlines of COVID-19.

Engaging my Senses

A study was conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1990s to assess the risk of air pollutant exposure. Over a two-year period, they concluded that Americans were spending 87% of their daily life indoors, and another 6% in vehicles.

It’s hard to imagine those numbers have decreased at all in the last 30 years. If anything, they have probably gone up. The average American will spend at least 93% of their life indoors.

It’s hard to grapple with the implications of 93%. Should we be concerned?

The concerning thing to me is the fact that a majority of that 93% is artificial. Climate control for every room in the house (or car), artificial light, filtered water, fake plants, artificial sweeteners. In many cases, the food we’re eating isn’t even real.

That being said, I’m learning to take every opportunity to get outdoors and engage my five senses. It brings me back to reality.

Gardening has been the perfect excuse. The feel of dirt on my fingers. Watching the buds slowly make way to new growth. The taste of fresh herbs. Listening to the sound of water landing on leaves and soil. Feeling the sun on your skin. It’s an incredibly grounding experience.

No matter what sort of mood I’m in walking out to my garden, it’s guaranteed to improve after a few minutes of watering plants or digging in the dirt.


Lessons from Gardening

Gardening itself is an act of slowing down. At no point in time is it helpful to be in a hurry. There’s no quick way to turn over soil or plant seeds. The practice itself causes us to downshift and check in with reality. As a society plagued with busyness and overwhelm, I’d say that is worthwhile in itself.

I didn’t grow up gardening and by no means claim to be an expert on anything. But the process of starting a garden this year has been a gentle reminder of a few timeless principles. While I may not be consciously thinking about these every time I’m pulling weeds or watering, they are still true and still working their way into my frazzled soul.

Good things take time

In our instant pot culture, we’re always looking for a shortcut. Spoiler: there are no shortcuts in gardening (or life).

I can hear the voice of the old sage reminding the young apprentice of the importance of time. Plant seeds, you must. Grow they will. Patience is not something that can be hurried and can only be learned through experience. If nothing else, gardening is an exercise in patience.

You see small incremental progress over the course of days and weeks. Turning the soil takes time. Planting seeds takes time. Watering and pruning takes time. Eventually, you may get some produce.

Good things require diligence

And wouldn’t you know it, patience isn’t the only virtue to be found.

Planting seeds in the spring doesn’t equate to a harvest in the summer or fall. Just because you took the first step doesn’t mean you get the prize. The best things in life come through persistent care and tending. A garden is no different.

Relationships take intentional care. Our physical health requires tending. Our emotional health requires constant care.

Gardening is a simple reminder of a larger law about the world we live in. Most anything we could hope to achieve or possess requires diligence.


You appreciate what you tend

Lastly, you come to appreciate that which you invest in and care for.

I have an ambivalent relationship with salad greens. But picking and eating mixed greens from our garden was a delightful experience. I could care less about the spinach I purchased from Aldi going bad. But after growing my own, I suddenly feel an attachment!

Engaging a process of growth and maturing in any area of life leads to a sense of greater appreciation and stewardship. Along with that comes a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

What may have started as drudgery can turn into something we come to enjoy as we engage in the process. The more we come to enjoy the process, the more we appreciate that activity.

* * *

Gardening has been a refreshing reminder of my need to be outdoors and engage real things. With most of my days filled with screens and climate-controlled environments, gardening infuses a sliver of reality.

It’s also been a timely reminder of some deeper realities at play. Embrace the process with patience. Diligence is a skill to be cultivated, and appreciation will come through the process of mastery.

While I may be a novice, it is remarkably gratifying to eat produce from my own garden.

Garden Growth

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