There are a handful of things that bring me immense joy.
Watching my children belt out deep belly laughs that are uncontrollable and ridiculously authentic is one of them. Knowing that, at that very moment, they don’t have a care in the world allows my heart to fill up to the brink.
Helping someone in a way that they didn’t expect makes all parts of me feel right and whole and good. Giving in this way shows me the purpose of what life is all about, and that feeling brings a crazy amount of inner peace.
Walking in a greenhouse filled with a seemingly endless array of flowers with colors from every shade of the rainbow causes me to live in the moment. I’ve always said that my heaven — if I get a choice in the matter — is complete oodles of flowers for me to run through and enjoy.
Cuddling a fuzzy kitten reminds me of how precious each of our lives are and how much we mean to one another. Knowing that I have the opportunity to express love to another without ever speaking a word — or at least one that the kitten will fully understand — gives me hope.
All of these things make me happy beyond measure, but one of my favorite things is being able to walk outside to my garden and pluck a cucumber and lettuce for a salad; a tomato to slice and eat raw; and a handful of peppers to sizzle for dinner’s stir-fry. The love I pour into my garden becomes something that I can share with those I love. It’s like a complete circle; one that just makes me smile with a deep level of contentment.
So, knowing this about me, you can imagine how I may have been feeling these last few years that my garden has been anything but plentiful. And that’s saying it nicely. Having moved to a 25.5 acre farm where the gardening opportunities seem endless but has resulted in possibly just a handful of tomatoes has been downright disappointing.
“Why did you buy a farm?” many people ask. “What animals are on your farm?” they follow up with. Great questions, and yet my consistent remark outlines my vision for a massive garden; one where others can come enjoy and I can teach the kids how to live off the land. Envisioning this dream fills my soul; executing it has been quite the opposite.
Last year, not only did I kill each and every vegetable starter that I grew from seed, but the starters that I purchased to plant in the garden died … three times over. The frost, the wind, and the poor soil ruined each batch. This year, the seeds I sprouted had much promise, but twice the greenhouse blew away with the wind and each beautiful seed of possibility became a mere figment of my imagination. This year wasn’t looking very promising either.
If you happen to be someone who isn’t a gardener, you may suggest that I just buy fruits and veggies from the local farmer’s market. Give in and support another local farmer who has more of a green thumb than I do. That’s sound advice, I’ll give you that. But much like a vocation isn’t something you choose, being a gardener — for me — runs deep in my blood. It’s a part of my identity. Even if I wanted to toss in the towel, my body wouldn’t let me. It would still find a way to pull up my rainboots and put on the gardening gloves to plant something, even if it was destined for failure. But failure isn’t an option. It never has been, and it wouldn’t be now either.
So, instead, I’ve chosen another path … one where I attempt to learn from my mishaps. Why, oh why, didn’t the garden produce last year? Why did my starter plants shrivel? Why can’t it all just be easy? I have many questions, and in searching for larger answers, I make small, incremental changes and then watch. As with most things in life, it’s a cycle — make a change, watch the outcome, adapt accordingly. Whether you are hands deep in a garden or attempting to tackle a challenge at work, that cycle shows promise everywhere. And this year, when I went out to the garden, I was reminded that not only does that cycle help you move forward, but it also provides with you new opportunities.
It had been a long day … and a longer night awaited. The candle was being burned at both ends, but the garden was calling. When you live on a farm, the work is never done, and while I knew I didn’t have time to dig in, I knew I needed to visit it. I put on my rainboots covered in a colorful kitty-cat pattern and began my trek to the overgrowth that was once my garden.
Green sprouted from every angle and yet, not a single vegetable plant had been planted. Have you ever wondered how you can try to get a beautiful flower to grow in your landscape to no avail, but dandelions have no trouble at all making it their permanent residence? The same situation held true for my garden. The soil had been so desolate that it looked like cracked desert terrain; that is until we covered it in cow manure.
Years ago, when my family and I lived in our old house with a mature garden we had nurtured for a decade, people would ask me what our tips were for reaping such a plentiful variety of all fruits and vegetables and my answer was a simple one, reduced down to just one word. Manure. When the garden had given its all for the year, we would burn the remaining sprigs of leaves and then cover the space with manure, letting it soak into the depths of the soil for months before asking it again to help provide nourishment for our family.
Gross, right?! Who wants to smell manure, much the less toss it around to cover the entire garden? The first year, I’m not going to lie, I was a bit sickened by it all, but seeing the benefits made me a believer. And the more I learned and perfected my gardening hobby, the more I realized how important this step way. Letting the soil rest is critical; but letting is rest and rejuvenate is pure brilliance. It’s like a spa day for the garden; but the facial lasts much longer and there isn’t a need for anything more than an annual mud wrap. The plants suck the soil dry and covering the soil in manure — kind of like covering us in a blanket at night — gives it renewed energy while renewing the nutrients needed for another year of a bountiful garden.
My current garden had been smothered in a thick blanket of cow manure and its winter warmth was growing green clover everywhere. In fact, the grass on the garden looked better than the grass on the yard interestingly enough. While I stood there, soaking in the truth that in a few days, the garden would be home to new plants full of potential and saying a silent prayer that maybe this year would be our year, I looked down and saw a glimpse of hope.
There, standing up strong and proud, in the thick of the manure-grown clover was a five-leaf beauty. I’d never seen one before and was sure it was an optical illusion trying to trick me. But as I bent down and plucked the weed, I saw its perfection. It was, indeed, an anomaly. And in the sea of dense clover, I knew that it was a matter of divine intervention that I found this one. It was placed there for me as a reminder of the power that I will always hold.
Call me crazy, but I get some of my best inspiration in life from my sweet, little garden in the backyard hills of Kentucky. The stories it’s heard of mine and the tears it has wiped away for me have been endless. And the life lessons it’s taught me have been game changing. That moment, as I plucked up the 5-leaf clover, I was reminded that even when our lives are covered in challenge, disappointment and disgust — times when we fill like we are covered in manure — we are merely being gifted a moment of rest so that we can soak in the energy and goodness we need for our next season in life.
And during those times, we get to choose what we do with the weeds we may see around us. We can allow the clover to take over, not creating any space for new planting, or we can realize that the clover has purpose too … and instead, we can stand proud and reach up, realizing that life isn’t about luck but rather choice; choice in how we see the world, how we see our circumstances, and how we see ourselves.
Sure, you can try to make lemonade out of lemons any day, but how about the next time life hands you a pile of manure you opt to grow a five-leaf clover instead.