I learned how to garden before I ever learned how to cultivate my own life. My introduction to gardening came with the planting of a single bald cypress sapling, its spindly form centered in an enormous mound of amended soil encircled by a protective fence. Over the years, I perfected my techniques until I knew exactly what to do to grow a healthy and beautiful tree. Those years spent with my hands in the soil taught me many lessons that I now apply to the rest of my life.
With my first tree, I had not yet found the balance between effort and effect. My three-foot sapling sat in a hole that required moving what felt like a metric ton of dense Georgia red clay. That amount of effort was not sustainable for the dozens of other trees that were eventually planted. I learned to dig wide, avoid the roots, and focus on loosening rather than removing the soil. This method still made the trees happy yet did not cause me misery in the process. Outside the garden, life should be a balance between effort and ease. Do not be afraid to work hard but do not work harder than necessary.
Amending the Soil
The existing soil in my one-acre plot was inhospitable to sensitive roots; its clay base would not allow air to circulate and would suffocate the life out of young trees if it was left to its own devices. However, if I amended the soil too much, the roots would never learn how to survive in the more difficult terrain once they outgrew their initial hole. I had to find the right balance between hard clay and soft soil to provide a safe environment for the saplings that would still allow them to venture out into the harsher world. Be aware of much you amend your own surroundings in your life. It’s good to be comfortable but be careful that you are not so snug that you cannot grow and expand beyond your current boundaries.
Support Only When Needed
I have to chuckle when I see young trees corseted up in bindings and stakes like a character in Fifty Shades of Grey. This support certainly prevents the immature roots from pulling out of the soil or the narrow trunk from snapping in the wind, but it also keeps the tree weak. A tree that has never had to face the buffeting wind or driving rains unprotected will not learn how to become strong in the face of adversity. I let my trees fend for themselves in all but the harshest storms, where I would run out into the yard and throw heavy bags around their bases to act as temporary anchors. Support is wonderful when it is needed but it should only be used as much as it is necessary. It’s important to be able to accept help when you need it but also recognize when you can do it on your own. Once your roots are established, it’s time to let your trunk grow strong.
Use Natural Fertilizer
With my first tree, I fell sway to the advertising. I surrounded my tree with granules and mixed fertilizers into the water in the hopes of helping my tree grow faster and become healthier. The tree showed no response, but my wallet sure did. Once I switched to natural compost, the trees and my wallet thrived. I look at most fertilizers like processed foods – you pay a premium for a product when the natural form is often cheaper and better. In fertilizer as with food, there is often an inverse relationship between advertising dollars and the healthfulness of a product. Nourish your body with natural foods and allow them to fertilize your health and vitality. Your vibrant body can then become the advertising.
I made the classic beginner’s mistake – I watered my new plantings frequently, but briefly, scattering drops of water that never fully penetrated the surface of the soil. Although the trees appeared to be sitting in moist soil, the needed water never made it to their parched roots. I learned that the best way to water the roots is to leave the hose dripping near the trunk for hours. Proper watering cannot be rushed. I am sometimes guilty of shallow watering in life as well. I may find myself in a yoga class but my mind is elsewhere. I might be at a romantic dinner while my brain is planning for work. Or, in my biggest struggle, I rush through meditation without allowing the peace to soak in. In your life, fully commit to what you choose to do so that you can gain the full benefits.
Let the Light In
Pruning hurts. I was scared to make those first cuts, very aware that they were permanent. I was afraid I would ruin my tree, afraid that it would never be the same. The fear was unfounded. Although the tree looked alien at first, its white scars advertising the new cuts, I soon grew used to its new appearance. The removal of some of the unneeded branches allowed light to permeate the canopy which before had cast darkness on all around it. New plants were able to dance in the sun that now filtered through the tree. I faced the most painful pruning of all in life – the removal of a husband. Like with my trees, it took time to adapt and adjust to the new reality, but now there is light beneath the canopy. Sometimes we have to prune back some branches in our lives to let the sun in.
My first tree was a loner for a season, standing tall in a sea of grass. Over the next few years, I planted companions, shrubs and perennials that kept the sapling company and enhanced its beauty. A wonderful symbiosis began to occur; the tree provided needed shelter from the hot Georgia sun and the companions held in the moisture around the base of the tree. In your life, choose companions that enhance your beauty and find ways to improve their lives as well. An abundant life is always more glorious than a single tree standing alone.