“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose…” said the little prince so he would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Whether you have 20 acres to plant, or just a small city balcony, gardening is one of the most therapeutic and magical activities you will ever enjoy. Often, new gardeners start out only with the intention of getting results from their gardens – fresh tomatoes, say, or fresh-cut flowers.
However, as the seasons pass, and our experiences broaden, we will find that our gardens are teaching us. For, as renowned Goddess expert Patricia Monaghan writes in her delightful book, Magical Gardens: Myth, Mulch and Marigolds, we soon discover that the Earth is not our servant or employee. She is our Mother, our lover, and demands that we honor Her at least as an equal. She requires a balance of giving and receiving. As generous as She may be with us, She demands our generosity in return.
So while, in the beginning, we may be tempted by, for instance, miraculous fertilizers that promise us zinnias as tall as fourth graders, over the seasons, the wise gardener discovers there is always a price for such unnatural tampering. Whether it shows up in our own garden, or downstream, such chemicals are out of balance. And gardening is all about maintaining balance, even though it is, by definition, not wild Nature.
Similarly, while we may despair over the invasions of Japanese beetles, destructive cutworms or fungus, clobbering our “enemies” in the garden with pesticides brings much worse consequences, sooner or later. Many of the “ordinary” chemicals that we think are less harmful (because they are common and cheap) are actually quite toxic to fish, wildlife, and flying insects that are Nature’s gifts to us.
Poisons that are meant to control pests also wreak havoc with beneficials, like butterflies and bees. And when their populations are reduced, we are removing their ability to act as natural protectors and allies. In other words, we simply improve the environment for the pests we are trying to get rid of in the first place.
In wild Nature, the balance is maintained over decades and centuries. But in the short term, from the human perspective, there are always disasters and setbacks. Fire burns down an ancient forest, late freezes kill a spring’s seedlings, drought wipes out a marsh. Nature’s balance can be, to the ephemeral life span of a human, quite harsh.
In the garden, we are creating a human-scaled environment, and, to a certain degree, an artificial one. Gardening changes the natural way of things, rearranging trees to get more shade or light where we want it, bringing water where there was none, introducing plants that are not native to the location.
Yet, in the magical garden, the balance is maintained. If we alter Nature’s ways, we are then required to tend what we create, in harmony with Her plan after all.