Lessons from the Garden

“Mother, can I just always live right here and never grow up?” It was like a fairytale when I was in the garden with her or my Mamaw as a little girl. My mother chuckled and said she wished we could both live right there together.

With my Mamaw, we were watching and nurturing tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, lettuce, purple hull peas, onions, watermelon, strawberries and corn. She would find a new fully ripe tomato and pick it with delight and said, “See here? His mercies are new every morning!“ I had no idea what that meant, but I knew any time I was delighted, that was the right thing to say!

With my mother, we were growing roses, hibiscus, vincas, impatients, Bougainvillea, zinnias and petunias. I would go out into the garden and hear her singing to her plants in her sweet, tender voice, “Consider the lilies, they don’t toil nor spin, And there’s not a king with more splendor than them …“

They both had green thumbs, they both sang in the garden, and they both imparted wisdom to me in the garden.

I loved it so very much, and I listened intently. But what I didn’t know was that they were teaching me life lessons as we worked side-by-side. None of us knew they were preparing me for my career as a therapist and Life Coach!

Although I cherish those moments, I so wish I had known to record them. But I can play back many of those moments, word for word, in my mind. 

I remember one specific moment when I was in the first grade. I had come home crying because we had paired up for a little class exercise, and my best friend chose another little girl over me. My mother was down on her knees in the garden, and she immediately pulled me over to her side and held me close. She pointed to a little butterfly on the rosebush. She tenderly explained that that little butterfly was a lonely little caterpillar at one time, so it crawled up into a cocoon to hide. But while it was in that cocoon, it became a butterfly. It came out, spread its beautiful wings, and began to fly.

Then she looked at me and said, “Do you think you felt a little bit like that lonely caterpillar at school today?” I nodded yes as my tears continued to flow down my cheeks. She said, “Well you won’t be lonely long, and before you know it, you will be just like this beautiful butterfly. And I will always be your safe place like that cocoon was the safe place to the butterfly when it was a lonely caterpillar.” And she kept that word until her last breath!

I’ll never forget that moment, because it felt like the whole world changed. The sadness in my heart was gone, and my world was perfect again. Oh to go back to that again! 

Year after year, in my practice, and as I have trained and certified Life Coaches, I’ve begun to realize that a lot of the creative wisdom that I am able to use to help my clients become free to soar, (and as I train Coaches to help others do the same), that the creative wisdom came from the garden of a loving mother and grandmother.

As I’ve been working in my garden over the past few weeks, I have recalled some of the wisdom that came from the garden to me.

Whether or not you love gardens, I believe these truths will be very helpful to you. I’ve chosen two from my grandmother and three from my mother that I’d like to share.

I know that living out these things, and passing them along, have made not only my life brighter, but the lives of many others brighter as well.

Lessons from the garden:

1. Gardens require nurturing, as do relationships.

When I got to my grandmothers house every summer, they were tilling the land. I would say to her, “C’mon Mamaw, let’s go plant the garden.“ She would hold my hand and we would walk around the tilled up land, and she would explain that it takes time to get the soil ready, then the seeds come, and then they sprout through the ground, and then fruit begins to grow. 

She explained that it was a lot like getting ready for a new relationship. When a mom is pregnant with a baby, she is very excited but she has to wait nine months. She takes care of and nurtures herself to nurture the baby. When a couple falls in love and gets engaged, they have to wait a while for their wedding. But in the meantime, they nurture that relationship.

She also talked to me about how much patience relationships require, just like in planting a garden.

She told me a story about her and my Papaw. I don’t remember my Papaw because he died before I was two. But she told me she fell in love with him, and he was a very good man. But that he did not believe in God like she did. She told me stories over the years about how she was patient with him, and never tried to argue or convince him. She just prayed silently and loved him well. She told me that she waited for many, many years.

But she always believed that love would win. She told me one day when he was very, very sick that he asked her if she would pray for him. She did, and for the first time in their 50 years, she saw a tear come down his cheek. He said to her, “I do believe in God!“ She said that moment was worth every day of the 50 years that she poured love into him, nurturing their relationship.

Then she told me that gardens are the same way. You have to love your plants and nurture your plants, but what they produce is worth waiting for.

How are you doing nurturing the things that are important to you? Especially your relationships?

2. How we care for our gardens is a very good reference as to how we care for others.

One day as Mamaw and I were picking strawberries, she was showing me how to gently tug to pull them loose. She said if you jerk it hard, it pulls the plant out so you have to be very loving, very kind and firm. Then she explained to me that you can learn a lot about people by how they take care of their plants.

She told me my mom worked with her in the garden when she was a little girl too. And she taught her to be loving, kind and firm in the garden. She said my mother became very good at it, and that’s why she was a wonderfully loving, kind, and firm mother.

She told me that people who do not tend to, or take loving care of, their gardens usually did not take tender loving care of their relationships either. 

She told me that people who neglected their gardens and let weeds grow would probably neglect people in their families.

She said,:

If people neglect their plants and flowers… They will likely neglect you.

If people walk on their plants or flowers carelessly… They will likely walk on you.

If people throw away plants or flowers that don’t look great… They will likely throw you away too.

On the other hand:

If people nurture their plants and flowers… They will likely nurture you.

If people are kind and respectful to their plants and flowers… They will likely be kind and respectful to you.

If people thoroughly enjoy their plants and flowers… They will likely thoroughly enjoy you.

Interesting observation, and one of the reasons I often inquire of people how they take care of their plants.

3. Planting little bitty seeds produces great fruit.

My mother often talked to me about a mustard seed of faith. She bought some mustard seeds and showed me how tiny they were. But then she explained that if you plant one in your heart, it will go grow so great that you can move mountains.

She also shared that the same thing holds true for little bitty acts of kindness. If we show just a little bit of kindness to people all day long it plant seeds which grow beautiful flowers and fruits in our life. 

Then she explained to me that the fruits included things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. And the flowers were beautiful things that happen in our lives, like extra favor in situations that we don’t expect, really good friends, and great connections.

From the time as a little girl in her garden, I decided to plant little seeds of kindness every day, and I still have some of the mustard seeds she gave me to remind me to do so.

What about you? It only takes a tiny seed to produce a great harvest. What seeds are you planting? (And by the way, negative seeds produce a surplus harvest of depression, resentment, bitterness, and loneliness … so always plant positive seeds!)

4. Growth requires time and effort.

During the hot summers on Galveston Bay, my mother watered our plants in the morning and in the evening. Sometimes I would ask her why we had to do it twice because it took a lot of time.

She began teaching me about how growing anything takes time and patience. Growing in our wisdom, growing in our relationships, growing in our career.

She told me that someday I would probably get married, as the plants would die without water, the same thing would hold true in my marriage. That I would have to water it every single day. And more than once a day.

She taught me to pull the weeds and told me that the same thing was important in relationships. Although the weeds are a little bitty things that don’t see that important, that you must tend to them. Because if you don’t pull them out, they would choke out the flowers, just as they would choke out your relationships. She said weeds were little things like speaking negatively to one another, or criticizing one another.

Then she would tell me that occasionally the plants would need to be fertilized. She said if we don’t fertilize them, they would lose their color. She said it’s the same way in relationships. If you don’t do special things for one another regularly, the love will die, and a beautiful relationship will become very dull.

Long before I was a marriage and family therapist, I had great wisdom from the garden.

My question to you is this, are you watering your relationship regularly? Are you pulling the weeds? Are you fertilizing it with special things?

To be honest, that is far superior wisdom to anything what I learned in graduate school!

5. We can create our own fulfillment. 

Because we had neighbors that did not have gardens, I asked my mother one time why we did and they didn’t?

She’s explained to me how having beautiful flowers and a beautiful lawn was so fulfilling for her. She said she walked out first thing in the morning to look at the beauty of the colors, the blueness of the sky, the greenness of the grass. And that there was nothing more fulfilling for her.

She also said that each evening after dinner, when the dishes were done, the reason she would take my hand take me out for a walk around the yard, followed by sitting outside for a while, was because it was very fulfilling to her. To once again see the beautiful lawn and gardens while we watched the sun go down.

I asked her if perhaps gardening wasn’t fulfilling for the neighbors. She said that was quite possible.

I wanted to know why the garden fulfilled her and did not fulfill them. In her great wisdom, she told me that different things fulfill different people, and that was OK. But the saddest thing was when people could not figure out (or even know they needed to figure out) what fulfilled them. Because their lives might be very lonely and empty.

I asked her if she knew what fulfilled me, and she said that all she knew for sure at that point in my life was that like her, I did enjoy, the outdoors. That what would fulfill me would develop as I grew up. She reminded me to keep my heart open for what fulfilled me, and make sure I made time for that.

Little did I know that Coaching people to live extraordinary lives and have extraordinary relationships, free from everything that holds them back, would be what fulfilled me.

But I have always known that I needed to find it, and that began to take shape in my teenage years. Now, I get to live gratefully and fulfilled every day!

People who come to train with me, and my clients, always note that I have beautiful flowers. I don’t have the same green thumb that my mother had, or that my Mamaw had, but having beautiful flowers in my garden is fulfilling to me too. Perhaps because I consider the lessons that I learned in my gardens.

I hope you will take these lessons to heart, because they are great spiritual and psychological truths that will make your life richer!