Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On hiring gardeners

Last week I parted with money for the second-best non-breathing investment of my life.

(The best was for a dishwasher. It cost $200. I had a three year old, a one year old and a big belly and it came with a shimmering glow and a chorus of angels.)

Last week, I hired two ladies with rough hands and soft hearts to come weed my hated rock garden.

I looked out every few minutes from my computer to cheer. I confessed to them before they left that I loved them. I believe they understood what I meant.

They edged the back of the garden so it looked clean. They got at the roots of the wild mustard that was invading. They tidied things up. They got dirty and I stayed clean.

I thought that was why I had hired them -- but it wasn't.

In having them come, I figured out all sorts of things I had never known before.

I'm a hard worker. I don't mind getting dirt under my fingernails -- literally or metaphorically. I scrub bathtubs with joy, for the sake of seeing the difference afterwards. Having people come to weed my rock garden wasn't about being unwilling or too busy to work.

What it was actually about was me being overwhelmed and not knowing what to do about it.

I love my vegetable garden. I till it under in the fall, like putting a well-loved child to bed. In the spring, as soon as the snow is mostly gone, I poke fingers into thick, cold soil and drop peas in a row, and I wait. When plants come up, I know what they are. I know what to thin. I know to brush tomato leaves for the scent.

The rock garden was different. I've whined about how it harbours weeds among the rocks, and it does, but it turned out that that was not at the heart of my trouble with this garden.

There were four or five clumps in my rock garden that were a mixture of goodness-knows-what -- some desirable and some not-so-desirable plants, all growing together. It may sound really really simple to you, but the very best thing these ladies did for me was to set a tarp on the lawn, dig out the good, the bad and the ugly of a clump and then put back the plants we decided we wanted. That I could do this was a complete revelation to me somehow.

I looked at the garden when they were almost done and I pointed to another clump that had a couple of plants mixed together in it. They explained to me what was what and said they could both stay, that they were both desirable plants.

What I had felt toward this garden was frustration -- that no matter how hard I worked at it, it would beat me. Even while I slept, it would keep churning out stuff to thwart me. I would pull and hack at it and my efforts felt futile. In reality, they kind of were. What I needed was to take a step back and to see what it meant to take charge of the garden. I needed someone to help me sort out what was what, and help me to know how to do that for myself.

It got me thinking about all sorts of ways we can help one another not get overwhelmed by life, ways I need help and ways I can help. But mostly I'm thinking about how I didn't even know I was overwhelmed and how frustrated I felt, and about how much frustration I see all around me and what might be lurking beneath that and what might pull those roots out.


  1. I have a feeling I need to meet these gardeners! My enthusiasm for my garden has waned this year with an onslaught of work, that terrible drought and my lack of vision for how to control my plant friends. I can definately sympathize with your rock garden.

  2. Let me know if you want to meet them, Leah.