I turn 58 on August 15 and as usual I instinctively reflect on the substance of my life to date, the choices I've made and make, lessons I am taught and need to learn, and my shortcomings my ego will let me own. And it is in my gardens that I see a pretty decent summation of all that and more.
Growing much of my own food became central to my life when I moved into a funky little trailer park in west Tampa in 1982.....to this day I cherish the memory of my wonderful 35 foot long eight wide 1950s vintage trailer and the abundant gardens that evolved around it. It is there I began my 1 man landscaping business 'The Garden Doctor' that sustained me for 19 years and that led to my self published magazine of the same name for 10 years. Prior to that, like most Americans, I bought my food. When I moved to Denver in 1987, self sufficiency based on landscaping and gardening took on a new edge in that forboding climate where I learned to plan WAY ahead as regards saving food and money for the long lean winter season, and using that painfully short growing season effectively.
It is in Denver that I became a self taught botanist, then garden columnist and teacher who'd learned enough, and made more than enough mistakes, to share with others lessons learned to date. It amazes me to look back on being 34, new in Denver, with almost no clue as to basic plant families like the Amaranths or the Cucurbits. As hard as my 15 years in Denver was, they were my crucible that taught me tenacity, hyper-frugality and creative problem solving. Moving back home to Tampa in November 2002 after all those years of homesickness, trapped in Colorado first by an upside down mortgage, then my goals as a rosarian and rose breeder, taught me, belatedly in life, the bliss of daily gratitude.
My garden and yard remind me that due in part to my having a busy mind, often scattered in many fun directions, I tend to be a slob. This is made worse by my being a dumpster diver and a packrat. So this year I am choosing to be tidier in one small area at a time vs. feeling overwhelmed by the squalor. For instance, today I will pick up the drinking straws etc. from the restaurant scraps I feed my free range chickens that litter the big path that encircles my back yard and finally spread the bags of leaves I scavenged weeks ago. Am once I lay down the last of the pavers a blog reader gave me on my evolving driveway and spread beach sand over them and sweep it all in, the front of my place will have one more area that will look tidy and "finished".
At a birthday party last night my gardening friend Mary Jo and I by accident/synchronicity found ourselves chatting with gardeners about making healthy diet choices and more. I am not a very social person but realize anew that I am drawn instinctively towards people with positive, expansive attitudes and pull away from those make suffering martyrdom a way of life. In this one brief life, with far few years ahead of me than behind me, I prosper most when I cultivate choices that create possibilities vs. the "safety" of painting oneself into a corner. I feel certain that happiness can be a choice I make daily simply by taking stock of my many blessings and being overtly thankful to the Universe for them. What I lack is dwarfed by what I have.
Humility is one of the most useful harvests my gardens give me. Some folks see me as a "gardening expert" because of my being a garden writer and teacher but I know better...I am just a passionate gardening student who loves to learn. If I was so damned good I would not be battling for the first time ever a virtual plague this summer of mealy bugs on my eggplants, currant tomatoes, and hot peppers, with some now even on my molokhiya. My perennial battle with weeds, with them all too often winning, insures I not get cocky and self-assured. Sure I grow lots of food and Old Roses, but any visitor here can tell at a glance that I am not in control here, always behind in so many tasks, always trying to "get caught up" vs. the landscape that last night's party was held in.....ORGANIZED, tidy, manicured and orderly.
Nearly 6 decades on this planet have taught me the joy of learning on many unrelated fronts, hence my "ADDHD" scattered mindset that, while fun, dilutes some of my more concrete efforts. So today as I tidy that chicken garden path, counting my blessings as I sweat in this remarkbly sweltering summer, I will be addressing and correcting one of my biggest character flaws......not focusing. Letting my gardens teach me to be focused, and to FINISH ONE TASK BEFORE STARTING ANOTHER, would be the best birthday present I could give myself this year.