10 Lessons I Learned From Our Garden (And none of them have to do with food!)

by Charlotte on June 20, 2012 · 50 comments

When my husband planted these grapes I thought he was nuts – we do not have the climate nor growing season for grapes – and yet look at them thrive! Lesson learned: Never underestimate the power of faith. And fertilizer.

After a long night of anxiety- and thunderstorm- fueled wakefulness (two hours of sleep is worse than none, in my opinion), I was awakened by the dulcet tones of… “I HATE YOU!” “I WISH YOU WEREN’T BORNED!” “WELL I HOPE YOU GET CHAINED TO A CLIFF AND YOUR LIVERS GET EATEN BY VULTURES!!” (We’re, uh, big fans of grammatically incorrect Greek mythology around here.) Kids fighting is going to be the theme of this year’s summer vacation, apparently. And what were my little violent darlings arguing so heatedly about? Who got to eat the most peas out of our garden.

Yes, they were arguing over vegetables. Not gonna lie, I was a little proud.

Nevertheless, I rolled over (and by “over” I mean “over the two-year-old who’d mysteriously ended up in our bed during aforementioned thunderstorm and had spent the rest of the night kicking me in the kidneys) and whacked my husband. “Go stop them before they pick all the unripe cherries. Again.” I mumbled. When he remained unresponsive – that man can sleep through, well, thunderstorms – I added, “This is all your fault. You and your organic garden with its amazingly tasty produce.”

The garden has always been my husband’s baby. Every year he starts planning it in January (peppers this year?), worrying about it in March (how are you supposed to know if it’s the last frost or just the second-to-last frost?) and then planting it, watering it, weeding it and caring for it through the summer (Stop letting the kids water it until it’s a swamp!). I help out by… eating it. The kids are only slightly more helpful than I am but any good they do is ruined by their damage when they decide to play Godzilla. I’ve often wondered why my husband goes to the bother of a garden when it so often gets picked early, trampled over and peed on by little critters. (And the bunnies, squirrels and deer aren’t great either.)

So this morning he answered me again, the way he always does: “Let them have it, Charlotte. We’re raising children, not cherries.” And yet again I was reminded that there is a bigger purpose for working with the earth. While I am by no means an earth mama – “zen” to me is just a power-play word in Scrabble – I decided to skip the gym this a.m. and spend the morning in the garden with Jelly Bean (my 3 boys were on a field trip). This is what the earth taught me:

Lesson 1: Good things come to those who look for them. If you’ve never had peas straight out the garden, let me tell you that they are so flavorful it will make you wonder if the kind sold in stores are even the same species. But peas are tricky – you can stare at the plant for an hour and not see anything but then realize you missed a huge handful. Delicious peas, like many opportunities in life, are there for the taking but you have to take them and not just wait for them to fall in your lap. And sometimes that means looking really hard at things you think you’ve looked over a million times until you see something new in them. Also applies to people. (P.S. For any of you wondering what to do with your old drop-side crib now that you can’t sell or give them away, they make excellent pea stakes!)

Lesson 2: Be prepared to love the unexpected. The label on this cherry tree distinctly said “sweet red cherries.” I can tell you from personal experience that the only part they got right was the “cherries.” At first I was disappointed by how consistently tart they are (and hot pink!) – I grew up eating Ranier cherries straight off the tree and so I am admittedly spoiled – but wishing something (or someone) were different than it is, is an exercise in futility. Accept things for what they are, even if it’s not what you had expected. Better yet, make cherry cobbler out of them because the tart is the perfect complement to the sweet. As Elder Wirthlin says so poignantly, “Come what may, and love it!”

Lesson 3: Laugh with abandon. I firmly believe God has a sense of humor (hello sea cucumbers!). People often get so wrapped up in the hard things in their life (and with good reason) but we can’t let ourselves forget that life is for living and we only get one ride on this ‘coaster. Sometimes there is no hard lesson – sometimes things happen just to make you laugh. Like this: Jelly Bean came running up to me and said, “This my pooping face! Take picture!!” So I did. And then she lived up to her promise and pooped. Can’t find a funny? Take a picture of your pooping face. It’ll probably make you laugh. And if not it will definitely make me laugh and that’s what’s important here.

Lesson 4: Look up. We’ve had these apple trees for 5.5 years now and have yet to get a single piece of edible fruit. A major reason for that are the insane Midwest thunderstorms. They always blow off all our fruit. So today when I saw several green apples on the ground, I got all sad. I love apples! Why can’t I have apples, darnnit? Then I looked up. And saw these tenacious guys. Staring at the ground keeps us from tripping but then we miss the sky. So when it seems like everything good is falling down around you, try looking up, even if it’s just for the view of the sky.

Lesson 5: Beauty exists for it’s own sake. This clematis doesn’t produce fruit or grow veggies or even smell good – and yet I love it. This purple is one of the most remarkable colors I’ve ever seen. It makes me happier just by looking at it. Which just goes to show you don’t have to be accomplished or rich or fancy to be worthy of appreciation. We each have our own innate beauty and that’s a gift worthy in its own right. You are beautiful simply because you are. And you are because someone loved you enough to make you beautiful.

Lesson 6: Everyone needs a solid support system. This tree, through no fault of its own, was planted in bad circumstances. But just like you are where you are, it is where it is. So rather than focus on changing the unchangeable, we’re focusing on supporting its growth where it stands. You’ll notice that there’s a giant rock at the base – everyone needs a rock in their life – but there are also ties and smaller stakes and coverings. There are lots of ways to support someone so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t be the rock. And: Let yourself lean on others. And: Don’t make fun of the tree that needs the rock and the stakes just because you weren’t planted on a watershed hill.

Lesson 7: Mistakes happen. This patch of ground by our mailbox hates us. We have planted so many different things here – flowers, shrubs, a Rescue Heroes control tower – only to have each one die in turn, just like this little pine shrub is in the process of doing. But rather than beating yourself up, try to learn not to repeat it and in the meantime learn to accept unfilled space. Nothing wrong with an empty canvas until you figure out your next step.

Lesson 8: Get in it and get messy. From above it looks as if there are almost no raspberries growing on this bush and yet when I squatted down to Jelly Bean’s level, look how many appeared! As she and I learned this morning, even if thorns are involved it’s worth it to get in and get your hands dirty to get the yummy berries. (And the plastic dragon!)

Lesson 9: Volunteer! If you don’t like where you were planted – like this little raspberry bush that ended up across the yard from its kin – take the initiative and move. My husband calls these little plants that just appear without being intentionally planted “volunteers” because they don’t wait to be asked, they just jump in.

Lesson 10: In the end, we are so so small. A friend once told me to sort my worries into three categories – Will this still bother me in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years? – and then focus my energy on the items in the 3rd. Of course we have to pay attention to the details of the now but there is peace to be found in the long view.

Do you plant a garden? Do you consider yourself an “earthy” or “nature-y” kind of person? Have you ever learned a lesson from being outdoors? (Don’t wipe with poison ivy??)

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby June 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I think this is one of my favorite posts from you. Ever. That’s all I can say about that.
As for gardening and flowers–yay! I live in Michigan and spend seven cold months of the year looking forward to the three scorching hot months I can work on my garden and the two months planning before that. Even though I have no attention span, I can spend hours weeding and watering and playing in the dirt. I love the veggies I get–most of the time–and my flowers make me happy.

Great post, my friend, and great growings! (Both kids and clematis.)


Charlotte June 20, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Thank you Abby! And for the record, I have no attention span either;) Also, we “grew” the nastiest veggie ever last year. Somehow our cucumbers cross-bred with our zucchinis so it was a squash on the outside with a pulpy cucumber inside… that weirdly tasted like lemon. BLECH.


Nicky June 21, 2012 at 10:57 am

I had this same problem a few years back! Spaghetti squash with no spaghetti on the inside, yellow-striped zucchini that were harder than wood (!) and deformed pumpkins that never really ripened. I now plant only one member of the squash family.


Shellie June 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Charlotte, this is one of my all-time favorite posts. Thank you.


Charlotte June 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Thank you Shellie:) I actually thought of you as I was writing it! Maybe you can help us with the dead zone by the mailbox…


Leilani June 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Awesome blog post. My husband (like yours) is the gardener in our family. I’ll have to remember your lessons while I’m grumbling about weeding.


m June 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Excellent post! Very insightful plus I love the garden.


Charlotte June 20, 2012 at 3:44 pm

And yeah – you guys are AMAZING gardeners. I wish we still lived by you so I could learn! Love the chicken story on Heidi’s blog:)


Renée June 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm

What a wonderful post, Charlotte! And in answer to your question, I love my gardens…in fact, when we lived up north they helped keep me sane. Nothing felt better during the cold, overcast month of February than to start some seeds, tend to the seedlings, and map out my gardens for the coming summer. And we pretty much lived off those gardens! Now that we live in the very hot south, I don’t have the extensive veggie garden that I did up north, but I still have gardens with whatever I can grow. With no children at home anymore, I don’t need as much, but like you said, nothing in the store tastes as good as what you can grow.

Thanks for the beautiful post today ((((hugs))))


Charlotte June 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Wow I’m impressed you could live off your soil skillz! We could definitely NOT survive on our, er, bounty:)


Liz B June 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Great stuff here!
Love Jelly Beans two different shoes! Um, cutest little person EVER!
Second, the spot by your mailbox. Does your city use salt or sand on the roads in the winter? Our parkstrip in Logan would not grow a thing and we noticed that it ends up COVERED in the salt from the snowplows every winter.


Charlotte June 20, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Um, I think you are a genius. Yes, yes, yes LOTS of salt. It makes perfect sense lol.


Deb June 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Love this post! My husband also is the gardener, and I eat and cook whatever comes of it. I try to stay far away from the dirt, weeds, and mess, but yes – there are life lessons to be learned there.


Quix June 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Awww, I love this one! I am not a gardener at all – there is some sort of care and nurturing and patience for something that may or may not pay off that I lack. Also, the Texas heat and unpredictable weather make it hard. And I’m ok with that. But yours is making me a little sad I don’t have that green thumb. =)


Charlotte June 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm

You’re welcome to come borrow mine any time;)


Karen June 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I love this post what beautiful lessons ! My dad has a garden that he lives off and it brings him such joy. He has been very good at repurposing everyday items, so I will tell him about the crib idea. I however, keep trying with out the same success. We live in a town house and this year the large amount of rain we’ve had in Sydney has completely wiped out my efforts, but your post reminded me why I try and will once the rain is over plant again.


Jody - Fit at 54 June 20, 2012 at 7:26 pm

I just LOVED this Charlotte – the sentiment, the learning, the love & THE BEAUTIFUL PICS!!!! OMG, Jellybean is soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo cute!!!!!!!


Charlotte June 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Thanks – I agree with you 100% about Jelly Bean. She’s my little angel!


Heather Eats Almond Butter June 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm

JB’s poop face is much cuter than mine. Lovely garden Charlotte, and now I’m dying to try freshly picked peas. Never had them before.


Charlotte June 21, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Ah but see, now I have to see your poop face so I can compare! ;) And I can’t believe you’ve never had fresh-picked peas! Get thee to a farmer’s market STAT!


Cyndie June 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm

What a wonderful post. I just found your blog a few days ago and I’m so happy I did (side note: I just bought your book too!). We planted a garden for the first time this year. We have lots to learn, but the kids have already gobbled up all the teeny tiny snow peas that never had a chance to grow. :-) They get excited about spinach! Yay! And they hop in there and pick the weeds too! I would love some raspberry volunteers.


Charlotte June 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Aw thank you! Both for the sweet compliments and for buying my book – that really means a lot to me!!


Jen B June 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm

This is my favorite post by you EVER. Thank you for shining the light on Reminding me what is important.


Charlotte June 21, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Thank you! So glad you liked it!!


the Bag Lady June 20, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Awesome post, Charlotte! Best ever.
I love your garden – will you send your hubby up here to help with mine? I’ve been too busy to even weed it, and it’s starting to look like a jungle. Yours, on the other hand, looks terrific.


Charlotte June 21, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Funny story: When my husband read this post he said “Wow, you really made our garden look good! You only took pictures of the pretty parts and left out all the crap!” So, yeah, ours is pretty jungle-y too;)


Tracy June 20, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Lovely post! And many thanks again for the True Lemon/Lime/etc. gift. Love them all – and found most in local stores. whoohoo!!


Charlotte June 21, 2012 at 11:03 pm

So glad you enjoy them too! They are still one of my fave food tricks!


Zyrine Kirk August 17, 2012 at 2:41 am

You have a beautiful garden and the plants are very healthy. For sure if I have that garden I will visit often time and I am sure I will be happy always.


Jennie June 20, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Wow. This is now one of my most favorite posts ever. I am in a reflective mood tonight after watching my “little” cousin graduate high school, so this was perfect for my mood!


Charlotte June 21, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Aw thank you! So glad you enjoyed it Jennie!


Miz June 21, 2012 at 5:08 am

I adore this post, Charlotte.
We just and finally learned all those lessons here too.
And I wondered, again. why it took me so long to create us a gardern.


Charlotte June 22, 2012 at 11:01 am

I thought of you and your sweet fam when I was writing this! This is the kind of thing you do so mindfully and so well!


Eva Haley June 21, 2012 at 7:10 am

I love this blog Charlotte. In fact, just starting gardening you will get a lesson from there already such as handwork, dedication and patience. You can get these lessons from that start and along the way there are a lot of lessons you will get like what you have mentioned above. I enjoy reading it.


JavaChick June 21, 2012 at 7:20 am

Growing up, I was an extremely picky eater (still am really, but since I cook for myself now I don’t notice as much); when I turned up my nose at boiled carrots, swiss chard, homemade barley soups, my parents told me I would miss that stuff when I grew up and left home. Nope.

When we would be assigned a row in the garden to weed as one of our chores, I hated it. I don’t like dirt, bugs, or being out in the hot sun. But, as it turns out, the garden is what I missed when I left home. I still don’t like dirt and bugs and working under a hot sun, yet somehow I can go out and work away in my little garden and time just flies.

My Dad grows grapes (Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia) and does quite well with them. He makes wine out of them, and my mom makes grape jelly. I keep thinking I want to plant some grape vines, just because I love how they look – I suppose it would be a reminder of home – but I haven’t figured out where to put them. I love your grape arbor! I wish I had space for one somewhere.


Katie June 21, 2012 at 7:56 am

My garden has spoiled me for pretty much all store-bought produce. I still eat it all mind you, save tomatoes which I will forever relegate to a few summer months because storebought are terrible and expensive, but they make me cherish the summer produce bounty even more. And I will learn how to can and save veggies this year!

You are incredibly lucky to have grown up with a rainier cherry tree.


Heather June 21, 2012 at 10:20 am

Sounds like a wonderful morning with Jelly Bean. I absolutely love her one pink shoe and one white shoe.

Hiking has provided some of the best decision making, best conversations with my fiance, and best perspectives. It’s amazing what being outside, surrounded by trees and fresh air, can do for our bodies, our minds and our souls.


Melanie June 21, 2012 at 11:56 am

I used to love to eat the fresh peas out of my Dad’s garden as a kid! My parents always laughed at me. I’m glad i’m not the only one that can appreciate them!

I always wanted a garden when i moved into my own house and i tried it the first year we were there. Unfortunately we have too much wildlife or i don’t have a green thumb or maybe a little bit of both. My Dad still has a fabulous garden that i love to help him pick and eat!! I agree being outside is such a zen experience and really helps you appreciate the beauty of God’s wonderful creation.


Krusticle June 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm

“We’re raising children, not cherries.” Charlotte, I think your husband is probably the best thing that ever happened to you!


Kiya June 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm

“We are raising children, not cherries.” Amazing! Way to keep perspective, there. Also, I love Jelly Bean’s mismatched shoes. And yes, clematis are beautiful! My mom has a gorgeous flower garden all around our house, and flowers and plants always remind me of her. That’s why I (try to) grow plants in my little apartment. I’m really good at cactus.


Kim D June 21, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Loving this Charlotte. Words of wisdom I’ll copy for my friends. Oh, I think you may have already seen my poop face. It’s the same one I have for Turbo Abs.


M. Lindsay June 21, 2012 at 11:55 pm

I know, I’m late to the post (work has been so busy!), but like everyone else, I think this post was so beautiful! I love your husbands words that you’re raising children not cherries, and also, I’m pretty sure that Jelly Bean is moving into her “kid” face slowly, and she is just the cutest thing- but most importantly, she looks sooooooo happy, like she has not a care in the world except playing with mom in the garden. Love!


Ulli June 22, 2012 at 2:24 am

I love this post, thank you so much Charlotte!!! I recently got a little garden and spend every free second there to plant things or just look at it, its just amazing how you can see the circle of live there (to go all lion king ;-))!! I have the same clematis as you have, just because I love the purple colour and it makes me happy!! I wish you a great day!!! Ulli


jane e June 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Your best post ever!! Maybe you need it to become a little garden’s book…”.Lessons learned from our Garden” by Jelly Bean and Mom. LOVE it!

Keep getting your hands dirty, nothing is more healthy that dirt, water and sunshine.


HB June 29, 2012 at 1:25 am

Thanks for sharing your experiences here on your blog.


Nathalie August 14, 2012 at 6:28 am

Awesome! I love gardening, it’s so soothing and you can eat the results. I grew up with a huge garden in the country, and each of us kids had a raised bed of our own to do what we wanted. My sister had lots of pretty flowers, my youngest brother always tried weird plants for a small raised bed (grapes and potatoes among them) in the middle of ‘normal’ plants (carrots, radishes, lettuce, etc). For my other brother and me, everything had to be edible, but for me that included edible flowers.
Now on my own, I don’t have a yard but each year I have a balcony garden. I grow mostly fresh herbs and lettuce since that saves me the most money. I also grow scarlet runners or other climbing – non-edible – flowers for the sake of beauty and a bit more privacy (I have a wall of leaves with red flowers instead of the thin ugly brown/old blood railing!).


hcg Diet April 29, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Loved it. My thanks for taking the time. I will check to your site to see what’s new and tell my people about it.


Anni February 8, 2014 at 5:47 pm

We miss Elder Wirthlin. He was such a sweet apostle.
We’ve learned to be very surprised in our garden. By both the whats and the what-nots.


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