I’m what you might kindly call a perfectionist—less kindly, a control freak. So when my husband and I scored a plot in our community garden a couple of seasons ago, I approached that 120 square feet of dirt like I do everything else. I insisted on pavers to create organized, separated areas where we planted root veggies in tidy rows and evenly spaced pepper plants. It was going to be…perfect.
Then a serrano starter died and left a gaping hole, the strawberries began launching their runners across the path, and the zucchini simply took over an entire section. I quickly realized that the more I tried to micromanage our garden, the less fun—and less fruitful—it was.
That lesson is at the heart of national gardening expert Fran Sorin’s recently released new revised edition of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening. Sorin—CBS Radio News’ garden correspondent and an ordained interfaith minister, among other things—will be at BookBar on Tennyson Street Sunday, September 18, from 5 to 7 p.m. to discuss her seven stages for learning to garden with untethered creativity and joy. But in case you can’t make it to chat with the author over mint tea made from the bookstore’s own herbs, Sorin has shared the following 10 quick tips to help you take your horticulture game from an embattled hobby to a spiritual practice.
For my part, I’m just working on not trying to retrain our cucumbers to grow symmetrically up the trellis.
1. Each morning, walk through your garden. Observe the changes that have happened overnight. This is your sacred time to just be in the garden without doing any gardening.
2. Keep a garden journal. After your morning garden stroll, sit and write for at least five minutes about anything that has to do with the garden. You can express thoughts and feelings about plants. You can write about certain plant combinations that you love or a bush that is wreaking havoc on neighboring plants.
3. Imagine. Close your eyes and think about beautiful places you’ve been or dreamed about. Imagine the garden of your dreams. What does it look like, what plants are in it, what fragrances? The more you practice using your imagination, the more you’ll discover ways of making your plot of land into a living work of art.
4. Before going into the garden, turn off all phones and technology and allow for no interruptions. This is your quiet, sacred time. If you were meditating or taking a yoga class, you wouldn’t allow your kids, spouse, or friends interrupt you. Don’t allow it in the garden either. If need be, set a timer to let you know when your time is up.
5. Practice mindful gardening. Set your intent prior to going into the garden that you are going to work at staying present. Your attitude has everything to do with how successful you’ll be at reconnecting with your garden. If you find your mind wandering and thinking about the “things you need to do,” pull it back and simply focus on what you’re doing—just like you would in meditation when you focus on your breath.
6. Nurture and relate to your plants. Plants are living things. When you touch your plants, whether digging, pruning, or cutting, think about how you care for them, how much they mean to you, and what beauty they bring into your life. If you want to talk directly to them, terrific. But even if you think positive thoughts about them, they’ll feel your emotion and respond.
7. Open to possibilities. It’s so easy to take our gardens for granted, like any relationship. A technique to use when you feel a bit disconnected is to walk through your garden and pretend that you’re a first-time visitor. Try to see your landscape with new eyes. What do you like about your garden? What might you do differently if given the opportunity?
8. Play. Play is an attitude. If you go into the garden in a serious mood, thinking that you have tasks that need to get done, you’ll have the same old type of experience you’ve always had…and that spells boredom. Play in the dirt, play with ideas, play with new projects—play every day that you’re in the garden. Possessing a childlike glee in the garden has a profound effect on how connected you feel to it.
9. Take Risks. It can be a small risk, like planting fiery orange and sharp pink tulips together in a bed—something you’ve always wanted to do but were too scared to. Or it can be digging a pond near the edge of the woodlands that you want to fill with water hyacinths and irises.
10. Create a soulful garden. If you copy what others are doing because you’re afraid of being different, you’re missing out on an opportunity to create a garden that represents the authentic you. The only thing that matters is that your garden pleases you. What others think about is inconsequential. The more you create from a soulful place, the more connected you’ll feel to your piece of paradise.