gardening
Gardening can function as a great way to slow time down. (Illustration by Elizabeth Wong, University of Rhode Island)
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gardening

I’ve reconsidered my relationship with the present, the future and my environment.

To me, gardens have always felt like a fairytale realm that is eternally basked in sunlight. I think about the summers I spent in my grandparents’ garden, blowing bubbles through bubble wands and chasing bees that fumbled from flower to flower. But I have never been able to recreate such a comforting dream world on my own. I have tried gardening in the past, only to be met with frustration.

I think it is the fear of failing that gets in the way the most. I am an impatient person, armed with a deep dislike of unsolicited advice. It’s not that I think I know everything, but I’d rather make mistakes in private. Unfortunately, gardening appears to be one of those scenarios where a little outside advice won’t hurt.

As quarantine forced the resurgence of new hobbies to be executed from home, it is not entirely surprising that other people are discovering their affinity for gardening as well. The New Yorker published an article called “The Tonic of Gardening During Quarantine” that described the resurgence of emotional power that can be found within gardening.

In a time of such immense loss, my garden has given me the same, nudging an encounter with the beauty of life and growth that has become easy to forget. I began my garden in the middle of July, but I live in the desert, so my yard is an unforgiving dirt lot that seems to only welcome weeds. But I wanted to try. My mom gave me a collection of terra cotta pots, a shovel and a bag of soil.

Now, my garden is a collection of pots on my back porch with blue chipped paint. A mesquite tree hangs over my head. I have a basil plant that I bought at a local nursery, along with carrots, spinach, sugar snap peas, green onions and flowers.

I have a bell pepper plant that isn’t doing too well, but I haven’t given up on it yet. I refuse. As another torrid Arizona summer comes to an end, the air outside becomes welcoming once more. Without immediately realizing it, my garden has become a physical accumulation of what I’ve learned during this strange and unfamiliar summer.

Trying and Patiently Failing

Due to the pandemic, the linear timeline of high school, college and career that we have all been spoon-fed now feels obsolete. Because of this, it has become necessary to find other meaningful things to work toward in my life. My garden has functioned as such a space.

It was scary to even consider the plants that would die as I began my garden. While not everything that I have planted has grown successfully, it doesn’t matter as much I thought. Because even when a plant dies, you can begin again. And again. But each time, I’m equipped with a bit more knowledge.

Patiently enduring failure on the path of success is surely a familiar cliche, but for me, it has become a lesson solidified through gardening.  And with that, I know the mistakes I make right now aren’t indicative of forever. They are merely stepping stones. It’s not about the outcome, but what happens in between.

Investing in the Future

I have never known how to think about the future, but the pandemic has only made that worse. As I struggle to define what I want to do when I finish school, my garden has shown me a different kind of future to focus on. Gardening acts as a personal form of sustainability, allowing me to create and care for something in my future. But it’s a future different than the one I grew up wanting to expect.

I think about sharing the vegetables and flowers from my garden with the people I care about, and it’s sweet. Through my garden, I am not only connecting with parts of myself, but with the world around me. This reminds me of the life that lies ahead, and it helps me to appreciate the life that the world has so carefully held.

Seeing Time Pass

Perhaps one of the most moving aspects of gardening is its ability to physically measure change. Little sprouts grow into proud stems that maybe one day will flower into fruit. Ever since the beginning of quarantine, time seems to have lost all meaning.

As I mull over my future and what to do with it, my garden reminds me that time continues to move forward. When I feel most stuck in place, this realization propels me further, as I can see the things that have changed for the better, like watching the flowers on my sugar snap pea plant turn into smooth, green little pods. By watching things grow, I can see the difference in time, affirming that there will always be a way out.

While gardening may be challenging, it is still entirely possible. And in a time when possibilities may feel few and far between, the capabilities discovered from my garden remind me of the resilience that will always exist in front of me.

While I’m not an expert at gardening right now, it is a craft I will have my whole life to work toward. What I thought I lacked, I found. I don’t want to say that I am thankful for the pandemic, because I am not. But it did force me to reconsider the relationship I want to have with the environment that I live in. I was seeking something that would bring value into my life, and gardening gave me such fulfillment.

The pandemic changed my relationship with my goals and desires; things that I thought mattered no longer did. Instead of focusing on the success of what I have planted, I’ve become motivated by the overall introspection given to me through gardening. Gardening has allowed me to become more patient with both myself and the environment, along with gently reminding me of the life that will always persist.

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