Life Lessons from the Garden

I’ve been a gardener most of my adult life. I was one of those ‘hippie types’ back in the ‘70’s, a subscriber to Organic Gardening Magazine, experimenting with bed gardening, growing things like kohlrabi and soy beans…I am now back to flower and vegetable gardening, after a number of years’ hiatus, in a large expanse of yard for both in my new home. And as I ponder my love for working in the soil, I am struck with observations of my relationship with gardening and how so much of what I learn (over and over) applies to life in general. Here are a few ‘life lessons’ from an old gardener.


Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a garden full of bloom, or plump veggies, when you plant little seedlings, or even just seeds. But right from the jump, you have to start with a bit of faith that what you are doing has purpose, and even reward—and embrace the waiting time, during which you watch, weed, water, feed. That patience creates a path for faith to walk down…you cannot garden without faith, nor can you enter into any relationship without some faith in the foundation of love.


Gardens require alot of focus and, frankly, sweat. Digging, weeding, mulching, pruning—these are the tedious aspects of growing the flowers and food you look forward to. If you don’t work at it, weeds can outgrow the flowers, and choke the growing veggies, inviting pests and blight. The work is on the front end, and the reward, at the ultimate end.


While you’re waiting for the bloom, or the plump tomato, there is joy to be found in a new bud, a bee pollinating a flower that will eventually grow a pumpkin, a fluttering butterfly sipping from the hyssop. I have been amazed at the colorful dragonflies in my yard, watching them hover and zip around…reminding me of the beauty created for us to enjoy. And, there is nothing to compare to the sound of thousands of American Toads calling out for mates in April and May. If you look for it, there is joy abounding.


Gardens are not all beauty and joy…you have to watch out for the insects which also like your garden…but their enjoyment is about eating, transforming (perhaps) from worm to moth. It’s incredible how large and (sorry) ugly tomato worms are…if you listen carefully, you can hear them munching on the leaves. You have to deal with them, for if you don’t keep your eyes open for them, you won’t have any tomatoes. Being watchful is a less happy task, but a necessary one to preserve your work. In life, we must always be aware how we may be influenced or thwarted by evil intended to take us off our path.


There is a bench in my garden where I love to sit. I watch the goldfinch sip delicately from the birdbath; the butterflies float about the hyssop and milkweed; the sun light dazzles in the sparkle of a flower petal as the gentle wind rocks the flower…what’s not to like? Even if I’m feeling a little blue, sitting on my bench and listening, watching, and thanking God for his sweet gifts—fragrances, colors, the buzz of life—I am in my happy place, and feel fueled by God’s love.


As summer melds into fall, I encounter some pangs of sadness. Yellow morphs into brown, herbs bolt into flower and seed, veggies turn from tender to tough, the hummingbirds stop coming to the feeder. It is time to prepare the garden for rest. I must embrace what is to come—a flowerless, vegetable-less bed of snow, hiding what was such a source of joy—to the point of wonderment if it even ever existed! But accept it I must, and prepare the beds by removing those veggie plants, any diseased leaves, and clearing out anything that might foster blight or disease. I know next spring life will burst forth, as I know with our physical death, comes transformation into spiritual life in all its fullness. Acceptance enables movement forward to a renewal of life.

-Priscilla Ortlip, MSW, LCSW