The Ever-Changing Garden – Lessons Taught Through Gardening

By Nikki Tilley | May 19, 2021
by Nikki Tilley
May 19, 2021

I’ve always said that gardening is a learning experience as we tend to grow alongside our plants. There are many, many lessons to be learned in the garden and it never ends, regardless of how long you’ve been doing it. Here is just a snippet of how I’ve grown and changed with my ever-changing garden.

Growing in the Garden – Not Just for Plants

I’ve been around gardeners my entire life but it wasn’t until my early twenties that the gardening bug bit me”¦ in a painful way. I started out just sticking plants in the ground with no clue about hardiness zones or growing conditions. As you can imagine, this didn’t work out too well; but when it did, I was excited enough to learn more. Luckily, I got a job at a small nursery and learned the importance of good soil, plant propagation and maintenance. Before long I had numerous ornamental beds and a huge veggie garden. And it only grew from there.

It wasn’t just the plants that grew. I did too. As a young wife and mother, I never really had the chance to explore what it was I really wanted to be or do with my life, let alone what I was any good at, although I will confess having a lifelong affinity for wildlife and archaeology. I soon discovered, however, with much trial and error, that I could grow plants. And I loved it. The garden became my sanctuary, a place where all my worries and all the stressful aspects of my life could be buried deep in the soil. I felt revitalized after time in the garden… happier even.

In the garden I learned a number of lessons that would carry me through the hard patches that followed, like leaving an abusive situation and raising two kids on my own. I developed a deeper understanding of my strengths by overcoming my failures, of which there were many. I learned more about patience, commitment and challenges from working in my garden than any books or people could have taught me. I learned to accept myself as I am, flaws and all. I no longer felt the need to starve myself to be thin enough or hate myself for not being what others thought I should be. I learned that the kids and I didn’t need anything fancy to survive, just the basics and one another. My garden taught me that anything is possible; you need only try, like planting a seed and watching it grow.

Gardens take time to establish and so do we. As adults we may think we know it all, but the garden shows us differently. It’s a process, not only of plant growth but personal growth too. As the garden continually changes, we do as well. I learned to be more grateful for the things I had, however few, rather than focusing on what I didn’t have. I learned that success isn’t achieved by perfection and never failing. No one, and no garden, is perfect, and we all fail at something now and then. You simply keep going. In the garden, I didn’t have to try so hard to be perfect. The more I nurtured the garden, the more it nurtured me. And nearly thirty years later it still does.

There’s a saying that aptly describes what being in the garden means to me: “I like gardening – it’s a place where I find myself when I need to lose myself.” ~ Alice Sebold

I found myself – my true self – in the garden. I can be me, free of doubt, fear, judgment, or pain. Life’s stressors simply drift away and I’m able to find peace. There’s no fighting, no discrimination, no hate, no masquerading. There’s just a symbiotic relationship between the garden and me that benefits us both. Success is merely what brings inner happiness, not just climbing the corporate ladder or winning the lottery. I found my success in the garden, something everyone can benefit from. It unites us all. Gardens are ever evolving – and so are we.  

There’s no place I’d rather be than in the garden, learning and growing”¦ and loving me. And, as a bonus, I get to welcome wildlife and dig in the dirt (it may not be archaeology, but it’s a close second).

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