Weeding out the tears to grow a good crop *

One thing I really love about my community is the number of friends who garden.

Today, I picked up a Joe Pye Weed dug from the garden of a friend this week. She was away but left it in a bag behind her garage for me. Next to my bag were a bunch of other dug plants she is bringing to sell at a community yard sale this weekend.

Last week, I came home with 5 or 6 Jerusalem artichokes to plant, given to me by another friend and neighbour.

Yesterday, I took my heavy tray of not-quite-ready-to-plant tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil next door to a generous neighbour who will watch them for a few days while I am away, in between working and caring for her 3 children and 3 dogs. She often watches and waters my plants and seedlings, as does the neighbour on the other side of us. I feel fortunate that these kind people are my neighbours.

plants dug and ready to swap
plants dug and ready to swap

This morning I went to a plant, seeds, and seedling swap at my weekly permaculture discussion group meeting. I brought 17 potted-up plants (but who’s counting, right?) — including ajuga, anemone sylvestri, anise hyssop, lemon balm, day lilies, chives, two kinds of sedum — plus some seed packets, and in return I brought home two hosta, two columbine, an oregano, a dill, two inula (aka elecampane, aka horseheal), a Roma tomato plant, 2 piricicaba broccoli plants, some tall zinnia seeds, cuttings for three kinds of beautiful coleus plants, and some seeds for a perennial/annual “beneficial insect mix.” Everything but the insect mix and the coleus is now in the ground, plus some nasturtium seeds.

The two new hostas in my garden:

Mary Anne's phlox in the bed last August
Mary Anne’s phlox in the bed last August

Another friend in the permaculture group who wasn’t there this morning always has a lot of great plants and tools to share, and a wealth of experience. Last year, she gave me some hardy and beautiful tall phlox plants, plus morning glories, tomatoes and tomato cages, a barrel full of peaches, and a dehydrator! This year she is offering us raspberries, tall phlox, lily of the valley, blood root, lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint, catnip, lovage, and lots of seeds.

Other plants and seedlings being swapped today included Jerusalem artichokes, a peony, aloe vera (house plant here), threadleaf coreopsis, hazelnuts, Amish Paste tomatoes, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and other things I can’t recall. Someone was very happy to find carrot seeds. Such a bounty!

I’m grateful that we have such an array and surplus of not only plants and tools to share and swap, but also interest, information, experience, good will, advice, and encouragement. The social interaction with others who care about gardening — who care about the health of the earth, about eating well and locally, about treating plants, animals, and ecosystems well, about living well — is as important to me, as nurturing for me, as the interaction I have with the soil, air, water, plants, and other animals around me when I am alone in the yard. Between the two, my life is balanced.


* I love Elton John’s song for John Lennon, “Empty Garden.”  I know it’s about losing someone specific, someone who tended to the world well, but I often sing it (slightly altered) as I work in the garden: “She must have been a gardener who cared a lot / Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop. / Now we pray for rain … Some say she farmed her best in younger years / But she’d have said that roots grow stronger …”

Most of us have experienced loss and grief in our lives, tears to last a lifetime; the garden created by those tears — from grief which can overcome us, can invade bright spots, can at times shadow what we want to thrive and flourish inside us (yes, and at the same time, shade is necessary for some of the most vibrant plants) — is more lush, beautiful, and viable because of those weedy tears. Weeds, after all, are the plants that by taking hold of poor soil make it healthy and keep it from washing away. Weeds prepare the ground and keep it in place; tears and other expressions of grief may do the same job for the ground within each of us. And over time, with the help of friends, neighbours, those who love life and tend to each other, our own roots grow stronger, in that tear-enriched soil.

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