Opportunistic Gardening and Harvesting Contentment

In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.
— Margaret Atwood

For years, I have labored with a non-existent landscaping budget to turn our raw land into a luscious garden, which has meant purchasing small plants that take years to grow to scale, as well as appreciatively accepting generous gifts from gardening friends.

I’ve been extremely grateful for whatever plants I’ve had the pleasure of tending, celebrating every arrival with unbridled joy only fellow plant enthusiasts can truly appreciate. However, the garden has always looked somewhat unfinished—and not in one of those charming the-garden-is-always-a-work-in-process kind of ways, but more of a hmmmm, this-has-potential-but-seems-a-little-sparse-and-hodgepodge way.  

Being a thrifty, yet ambitious gardener, last Spring, I was thus overjoyed to find heather plants, spirea shrubs, and a Mimosa tree on Craigslist all available for the digging. There is something about Spring and the desire to be outdoors again that makes digging in the garden a somewhat compulsive delight, which is even more pleasurable with desirable new plants.

Because I teach, coach, and host retreats here, I sometimes feel the need to justify my indulgence with the intention to better serve my clients with beauty, but this happens every year, whether working from home or elsewhere.

Nesting. Cleaning the beds, indoors and out, of winter malaise and tumult. Fresh air. Ahhhhh, to inhale the warmth of sunshine and fresh mowed grass again. The birds are chirping, the hummingbirds are humming, the bumble bees are bumbling…

I work until dusk, exhausted, yet reluctant to go indoors. The garden is my therapy for all that ails—except my back and knees, which need more rest than I’m giving them with all my hard labor. Fortunately, I teach yoga, so I have daily asana, and occasional soaks to restore my sore body. Meanwhile, there’s nothing like a bit of obsessive opportunistic gardening to offer some instant gratification and peace of mind. Get dirty if you want to cleanse the soul.

This Spring, one of my yoga luvs introduced me to the Buy Nothing Project (thank you, Tina). Between this and Craigslist, I have been blessed with a veritable cornucopia of new arrivals to my garden, including a Viburnum tinus, a pink camellia, eight azaleas, a couple of rhododendrons, hebes, rosemary bushes, some Shasta daisies, asters, feather grass, liriope grass, blue false indigo, sedums, currant bushes, gooseberry bushes, and the piece de resistance, a ten-year-old Weeping Cherry tree. 

Seriously. Who gives away a ten-year-old Weeping Cherry tree? Generous people who want to plant raspberries, that’s who. Now, I love raspberries and applaud all efforts to grow food at home, but I’d be hard-pressed to give up such a gorgeous tree. Fortunately for me, some people prefer raspberry yumminess over Weeping Cherry gorgeousness—and I know some lovely people who are willing to help me transport windshield-hugging trees in the pouring rain (thank you, Sherrie).

Of course, it’s not the most efficient process to go and dig and transport...and dig and transplant. However, buying pristine, potted plants ready to transplant is a luxury for those with more lavish actual landscaping budgets. As much as I love supporting the local nurseries, as one with a non-existent landscaping budget, and the happy owner of a decent shovel, I’m grateful to dig. After all, what gardener doesn’t love perfectly healthy (or even slightly weary) FREE plants?

FREE plants. Happy dance!

Aside from the instant, albeit more labor-intensive gratification of having beautiful, often mature, affordable plants, I enjoy the adventure of my unconventional plant procurement. Each time I retrieve a free-for-the-digging plant, it's like my own little treasure hunt. I discover hidden neighborhoods that I had no idea existed. I learn a bit more about the ecosystem of the Island and enjoy other gardens. I meet people in my community.

In the back of my mind, I sometimes wonder if it’s wise going to some stranger’s home, but invariably I have a good experience, and my faith in humanity’s ability to live up to its name is strengthened in these little, serendipitous meetings.  Plus, I come in peace wielding a serious shovel.

And only the gardeners who have an essential connection with nature will truly understand this: I love rescuing unloved, unwanted plants with whom to share my little patch of heaven here on earth. Friends jokingly refer to my "plant refuge" in terms of taking in unappreciated plants, but really, my plant refuge is also my refuge, my retreat co-created through loving co-existence. When we love where we are, we also benefit tremendously, and natural beauty helps me love wherever I am.

Beyond relatively cost-free gardening, it’s refreshing to participate in a community of people who are actively reconsidering and redefining our relationships with materialism and commercialism. The Buy Nothing culture is an impressive modeling of relational decluttering, repurposing, and recycling. I enjoy these online-mediated opportunities to develop relationships with members of my local community, sharing yoga sessions, various plant starts, and household items. It has a good old-fashioned Mayberry-esque sensibility to it, except with new-fangled, social media facilitating the connections.

On the receiving side, it’s interesting to participate in the non-commercial economy this way—great practice in asking for what one needs and/or wants, letting go of attachment to outcomes, accumulating within one’s means, and generally enjoying conspicuous contentment.

In any case, I'm grateful for the Cherry Tree. It hasn't leafed out yet, but it's happily planted in the garden there, offering a lovely view from the Adirondack.

Time for some serious sittin' and sippin'...