It’s April in the Northland and that can only mean one thing – Spring is just around the corner!
Which corner depends on how far north your particular patch of Northern Minnesota is. But it is definitely coming. May, maybe. June for sure!
During this time of year, many homeowners have already planned their gardens, poured through seed catalogs, made their purchases, polished up their gardening tools and are just waiting until the earth warms up enough to get out and work the soil. If they’re really brave, they might have even bought a few hardy Johnny Jump-Ups and alyssum to brighten things up.
But not me. No way. I don’t want to have anything to do with it.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. There is something about the first hint of green that draws you outside to contemplate the possibilities. The moist aroma of spring earth that makes you want to drop to your knees and start digging. The glorious array of colors, textures and scents found only in a flower garden. And the crunchy deliciousness of a freshly-picked garden pea.
There is a lot to love about being a gardener.
Then again… there is a lot NOT to love. Aching knees. Sore back. Sweat pouring into your eyes. Dirt under your fingernails. The whine of a mosquito or black fly in your ear. The sting of these uninvited guests helping themselves to your flesh and blood. The resulting splotches of red welts all over your face and neck. That weed. And that weed. And THAT weed. And THAT WEED!!! All the stuff that doesn’t get done because your new-found weed friends are taking up all of your time.
My career as a gardener began innocently enough. The various houses I have lived in over the years had just enough garden space to keep things interesting. A few annuals here, a few perennials there. Maybe a tomato plant. Despite their simplicity, these gardens filled me with joy as I spied tulips’ first tips pushing up out of the earth, feasted on raspberries right outside my back door, felt the unbelievable softness of a Lamb’s Ear, and imagined my patch of bee balm as a bunch of crazy Red Hat ladies dancing in the breeze.
I grew to love gardening so much I decided to become a “Master Gardener” through the University Extension service so I could learn more about gardening and teach others how to garden successfully.
But then my husband and I began to suffer from “Small House Syndrome.” This condition, found only in people who reside in houses less than 850 square feet in typically urban areas, leads it victims to buy unreasonably large homes on acreage with ridiculous amounts of available garden space. Bonus points if said garden space is filled with a beautiful array of flower and vegetable gardens as well as fruit trees and a raspberry patch.
I kid you not. In addition to the 25×40 foot vegetable garden, the raspberry patch and apple trees, our place has 10 distinct perennial flower gardens. Well, had….one of the larger ones has been paved over for a patio and a fire pit. And I am not talking about dinky 2×4 foot spaces next to the front steps. I am talking about large gardens running the entire length of the house. AND width.
And of course, when we bought the house the gardens were absolutely fabulous! Boasting a wide variety of flowers, no weeds and beautiful mulch, these gardens were a feast for the eyes. “What’s to worry about,” I thought. “Perennial gardens just come back year after year. No muss, no fuss….right?”
Oh no. Not right. Not right at all. But I am getting ahead of myself.
By the time our first spring in this house rolled around, I had a “little potato” of my very own. As a newborn, my little spud was the sleepiest, slowest nurser ever. I bet I spent 6-8 hours each day just nursing her! Between that and some back issues I had, there wasn’t a whole lot of gardening going on that first year.
So, I had high hopes for my second gardening season. And for the most part, things worked out really well. I would get up when the sun rose and, armed with the baby monitor, get outside to tackle the weeds, plot out the garden, pull more weeds, plant some seeds, get rid of more weeds, water, and turn around and pull more weeds. You get the idea. I was able to do the same thing during nap time. It was great! But mind you – this was just the vegetable garden.
The 10 flower gardens were simply humming along on their own… or so I thought.
Fast forward to the third year. Right around the time my daughter gave up her naps. All of a sudden I had a lot less time for gardening. Simultaneously, the neglect those 10 flower gardens suffered at the hands of the vegetables began to rear its ugly head. Upon closer inspection, they had turned into miniature jungles filled with wild raspberry plants, Snow-in-the-Mountain (a fancy name for “plant-you-can-never-get-rid-of”), stinging nettles and other unwanted guests. In other words – more weeds.
It was about this time when a hobby that used to give me such pleasure turned into a project. Grow the vegetables. Stay on top of the weeds. Protect myself from being eaten alive with a hat, head net, long-sleeved shirt, pants and a bandana laced with bug dope. Hope my neighbors don’t think I am crazy. Save my own seeds. Try a straw bale garden so I don’t have to weed. House our chickens near the vegetable garden so they can eat unwanted bugs and fertilize as they go. Continuously come up with new ways to keep chickens out of the garden. Staple plastic bags over hundreds of apples to protect them from apple flies. Figure out what to do with hundreds of apples. And so on and so on.
Those stupid gardens were actually giving me anxiety because there was no possible way I could maintain all of them while also tending to my family and other responsibilities.
Yup, you’ve got it. My joy was gone.
After 6 years, these gardens brought me to my knees in a whole new way. The joy I once felt had turned into a major drag. One day, while I was pulling what I am sure was my millionth weed, I looked up. As I squinted through the mesh of my head net, I saw paradise. And I asked myself when was the last time I had actually done something outdoors that truly brought me joy? I never had time for the other things I loved to do outside because of the hours I needed to spend tending to my vegetables and making my yard look nice. And I started to realize life is just too precious and short to be spending large chunks of my free time during the summer months on something I didn’t enjoy all that much anymore. So, I threw in the trowel. It was time for me to admit that I was sick of gardening and didn’t want to do it anymore.
I can hardly believe it as I write these words: I have given up gardening.
But only in the traditional sense. The thing is, I am still a gardener, albeit not of plants. With much nurturing care, I am helping my daughter grow. I have planted the seeds of my business which is starting to blossom as I assist others in growing toward their dreams. Life changes… and I have changed. In doing so, I am embracing one of life’s realities: There are only so many hours in a day and I can only do so much. What a freeing realization! With eyes wide open, released from my head net and full body protection, I am running toward new adventures and new joy.
And maybe, just maybe, I will come around someday and be interested in gardening again. Until then, anyone want to borrow my hoe?