Gardens might just be one of the best places on earth to learn and practice patience. As humans, patience isn’t necessarily something with which we are gifted; it’s something we have to learn. Much like vegetable gardens, patience has to be cultivated…as I continue to be reminded.
I’m realizing that the current growing season isn’t just about producing herbs and vegetables this year. It’s coinciding with a spiritual growing season that seems to be about cultivating my mind, body, and spirit together and producing character. So far, the primary lessons have involved learning patience and practicing it persistently (and I don’t see the plans changing for this course anytime soon). I’ve come to think that virtuous people aren’t born that way (there are some exceptions, Jesus being the first that comes to mind). We’re born with the capacities to be virtuous, perhaps. But having the capacity for something doesn’t promise or predetermine its actual presence or future fruition. Maybe the point is less about mastering virtues than it is about growing into a virtuous person, a little at a time, here and there, when and where opportunities present themselves in the world. This is where gardens are helpful. Here, cultivating our capacities for being virtuous people is invited and welcomed, and sometimes it’s even forced.
Although we got a late start, Cole and I seeded most of our garden this year—our fourth growing season and our first major attempt at seeding. We began in March with two varieties of tomatoes (beefsteak and Roma), basil, and cilantro. The only plants we bought as transplants this year were yellow crookneck squash, black beauty zucchini, and lavender. Despite the fact that seeding can be long in and of itself and that it’s mid-July and we have yet to harvest our first tomato—seeing the process unfold from seed to plant to fruiting plant has been incredibly rewarding already. Everyday our anticipation builds.
The first thing Cole does in the morning (after pouring his coffee) is check and water all the plants. And the first thing we do together in the evenings when he gets home is walk around the gardens, pick off the visible bugs, and, lately, check the stakes around our now five feet tall and super fragrant tomato plants, reinforcing them if needed to provide stable growth. This past Sunday evening, upon returning from a weekend away celebrating the marriage of two close friends we were excited to check the gardens. You know how children and puppies seem to grow faster when you’re not around to see them everyday? Gardens are no different. After unloading the car and throwing our luggage in our bedroom in an it-doesn’t-matter-we’ll-unpack-eventually-when-we-need-something kind of way, we popped open a beer and headed outside. To our delight and excitement we had at least sixteen little green tomatoes growing from four of our five plants in the above-ground garden, and more blossoms hoping to fruit soon. Everyday our anticipation builds.
Sometimes, though, we have to keep our anticipation in check. Cole and I both are easily tempted by the promises of miraculous growth with certain fertilizers and plant foods, which, among other things, speed up the natural growing process. This season we’re really learning the (beautiful) challenges of organic gardening between the assortment of pests—from slugs to chipmunks—and the in-ground garden beds with borderline soil sickness. None of which we’ve had to contend with until this year when we moved from an apartment feasible only for container gardens to a house with a yard-full of gardening possibilities.
To have a connection with one’s food from the seed stage all the way to the harvesting stage and then also to the eating act is an amazing thing and an awesome experience—one that’s well worth the wait. Each step or significant moment along this cultivation journey is special in and of itself, because it involves us in the living and dying act of everyday life on a personal and embodied level; because it builds relationships between us and the food we eat as well as with the world around us in which we plant, grow, harvest and eat our food; because it teaches us lessons on independency and the necessity of dependency—on other people, beneficial animals and insects, weather, and, of course, on God; because it teaches us patience and forces us to slow down in order to reap the bounty of the harvest, the beauty of the process, and the lessons to be learned. At least, such has been my experience in waiting on tomatoes.
The garden, itself patient yet persistent, calls out to us. It’s arms open, inviting us to explore and welcoming us to take off our shoes and stay awhile. Whether it’s for tomatoes, or even something like calls back for interviews or clarity on what the next leg of the journey will entail, waiting is a necessary part of the process, in which we, with God and other creatures, are invited and encouraged to take delight.