Since adolescence I’ve found temporary fulfillment through consumption. Every season has held a new flavor. In the Autumn there’s candy corn and leaf-shaped candies made of maple syrup. Winter brings the crisp flavor of peppermint and cinnamon candy canes, hot cocoa flavored with mint syrup, and Valentine’s Day conversation hearts. Easter bunny marshmallow Peeps and jelly beans offer a segue into sweet tea, water ice and all the sweetness of Summer.
I can’t begin to imagine the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on momentary gastric bliss. But in the last few years I’ve found a new form of fulfillment that broadens and intensifies with each season. That’s because I’ve been slowly making myself at home in nature. First I overcame my disdain for jogging by trekking down the historic stony trails of Valley Forge. Then my love of trail jogging followed me to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and evolved into floral and landscape photography since I often passed the Brooklyn Botanical Garden on the way from the park to the subway. There, I began to wonder about the way gardens develop in different parts of the world. The Shakespearean garden juxtaposed with the Japanese garden brought up questions of what a native plant really is. Now that I’m back home in Southeastern PA, working for a plant nursery, I have more opportunities to get to know the plants and landscapes I’ve always been curious about.
I started with lavender and yellow pansies back in April. (Isn’t it ironic that pansies, the flower that stands up to harsh weather at the beginning and end of the growing season bears the name we give to wimps?) I quickly learned why some of the landscapers that come into the nursery have knee problems. After flipping over a blue recycling bin I had a sturdy seat at the perfect height for gardening. The hardest part of doing that first planting (and even now it’s hard for me) was sticking my trowel into the ground and realizing that I sliced into a poor little earthworm. Gardening has so many moral conundrums. When is it okay to kill a creepy crawly? Can I drive pests away without killing them?
I used to look at gardening as another way for us to act like mini-Gods. We decide what lives or dies in our little Edens, we think we know all and see all. A weed is whatever is tough to control, so they have to go! But now that I’ve given gardening a serious try I’m finding that like most things in life the situation is not so black and white. Sure I’m playing God by setting up certain plants in certain places. But there’s no way to plan for everything that happens during and after the planting. My little Lantana plant could have a sudden growth spurt and become more like a weed. Or the pansies I expected to crap out by early June could stay strong and drop seeds that flower out of nowhere in October. Aphids could creep up on my spinach leaves before I have the chance to smother them out. There’s no complete control. I’m learning that life’s disappointments can’t be fixed by downing a bag of candy corn. I have to roll with whatever the universe hands me, and so far the outcome has almost always been pleasant.