I always find summer an exciting time of year. On the one hand things slow down, the days are longer and my mind turns to holidays and free time enjoying the sun. Yet on the other hand, somehow there is an underlying speed and busyness to the season too. The days whizz by in a hive of activity and out in the vegetable garden the crops are in overdrive. I have a busy life. My job requires me to travel all over the world and when I’m giving a speech or delivering training I have to be 110% present. There’s no space for me to focus on other things. It’s all consuming and sometimes I find it difficult to switch off. So one of my biggest pleasures when I’m not working, is my little vegetable patch in my back garden. It’s a place of solitude and contemplation where it’s impossible to rush and where multi-tasking is pointless. Growing stuff is a bit of a guilty pleasure. It doesn’t sound very cool or cutting edge to be spending your evenings watering the beetroot or "pinching out" the tomatoes and yet it’s the perfect antidote to my busy schedule. And the brassicas aren’t the only things sprouting fast this summer, my daughter is starting school in September bringing into focus the intensity of the last four years. So, as the summer continues to accelerate I wanted to reflect on some observations and life lessons I have taken from my time in the garden over the last few months.
We’re All Big Kids At Heart
I think one of the reasons I love being in the garden now, is that I adored my grandma’s garden when I was growing up. I loved going out with her to cut the rhubarb or to munch the peas straight out of the pod. My daughter and I have been having lots of adventures this summer too. Hunting down the hidden strawberries and chasing the butterflies. Sometimes life can get too serious. Moments of joy are really important. When we start seeing life through the eyes of a child things become much more exciting and fun. It’s important to make an effort to stay curious and find opportunities to play each and every day.
Weed Little And Often
Anyone who’s ever had to clear an overgrown plot will know that it’s back breaking work. The trick is to never let it get like that in the first place. On the veg plot there are always things to do but little and often is the way to ensure you keep winning. Tackle your tasks in bite-sized chunks. Don’t try to do things all at once. Take it one step at a time and do it regularly. Sometimes we just need to keep on top of the dull stuff otherwise we create much bigger problems for ourselves further down the line.
You’re Never Really In Control
You can plant everything in nice straight rows. You can weed your beds religiously. You can put up netting to keep away the birds. But you can’t stop nature. You can’t plan for every eventuality. Slugs will come from nowhere. Wind will rip up your beans. Black fly will swarm your cucumber flowers. And when these things happen your only real choice is to stay grounded. I’m a great believer in planning and in meticulous implementation but flexibility is vital too. When things go wrong, the worst that can happen is that we have to start again. The trick is to make sure that you always learn something for next time.
Water Every Day
Growing things takes commitment. You have to water the soil every day. My first few courgettes of the season were testament to the fact that if you are inconsistent you don’t reap the fruits of your labour. Irregular watering caused them to shrivel and die. The same is true of your passions and your skills. You have to nurture them regularly to ensure they prosper and grow. It’s easy to put things off or say we’re too busy but if we want the results we have to put in the work. When you do the rewards are delicious!
Pull Out The Dead Bits
In the veg patch when something is dead, it’s dead. Once a leaf has gone yellow and wilted it’s not coming back. It’s tempting to lose focus trying to revitalise things that we’ve put time and energy into but the garden has taught me to keep one eye on the bigger picture. Each plant is just one part of the greater ecosystem and if we focus on what is failing or has failed we miss the growth happening all around us. Your task is to pull out the dead bits so they don’t infect anything else and move on.
Some Things Can’t Be Rushed
We live in an “on-demand” world. The veg patch is the antithesis to that. No matter how quickly you want something to grow it takes as long as it takes. You can’t rush things. Our daughter was desperate for the first strawberry of the season to arrive. It kept her waiting and waiting. But when she finally tasted it, the look of delight on her face was worth every minute. Sometimes we want to jump straight to the end result but the journey is just as important as the destination. Some things take time but if we’re prepared to stay the course the payoff is often even better than expected.
Produce = Pleasure
My final take away is that life isn’t about what you consume it’s about what you create. Of course it’s wonderful to have an abundant supply of fresh produce to eat but the real pleasure comes from knowing that you grew it, tended to it and harvested it yourself, not from how it tastes. As human beings we have developed a hunger to consume. We devour information in the same way we devour entertainment and fast food. Yet what sets us apart from the other mammals on the planet is our ability to nurture life in other species. When we create, we bring others to life and most importantly we bring ourselves to life too. That’s certainly how I feel as I tend to my crops.
So there we have it. I’ve outed myself as a secret gardener. I don’t profess to be good at it but I certainly enjoy the challenge. And if nothing else it provides me with the space to reflect on my place on this amazing planet we live on. Happy growing!