Lessons from the Garden

By Susan McCrackin, Fairfax Master Gardener Intern
gardenI was working in the garden as weather warmed. Neighbors walked by — socially distanced, of course –and complimented me on how beautiful my garden was. I smiled and struggled for something positive to say in response.

As I stood there, looking around me, I saw the weeds that needed to be pulled. I saw the spent bloom from the peony that needed to be pruned. I saw a small bleeding heart that has failed to thrive in its spot that needed to be moved to a better, more appropriate place. I saw the “saved” plants purchased from the sale table and planted with the encouragement that I had given them the opportunity and that it was now up to them to take advantage of it. I saw plants given to me by friends and stuck in an open spot, which probably wasn’t exactly the right spot for the type of plant. And I saw that none of my garden was “by design” because nothing was planted in threes or clustered for impact. It was a mish-mash of plants thrown together at different times, doing as best as could be done in a postage-stamp garden sitting under a huge oak, ringed by a low wall of rocks that I had picked up and hauled out of a field and dry-stacked myself.

How could anyone think that such a garden could be beautiful?

IrisThe other day, I saw my orange iris was blooming. I was really excited because this iris had not bloomed in a while. I had to take a picture! Suddenly, I realized that the Solomon’s seal that started out as a couple of small plants given to me by a good friend in Massachusetts and carefully carried in a plastic bag on the flight home had really filled out and were full of blooms, so of course I had to back up to take a picture of that. Then, I noticed that the autumn fern just added to my garden last year when a friend divided hers was in full bronze glory. Backed up a little more. And then, I saw the hardy orchids that had finally developed into a good-sized colony were nearly bursting into bloom. Had to back up some more. The leopard’s bane, gifted from my neighbor, was huge and happy, and demanded to be included in the picture. Backed up again.

Finally, I saw it. My garden really was beautiful. Full. Blooming or near blooming, shades of varied green, plants leafing out, one over the other, painting themselves beautifully in the garden, their beauty and gracefulness overshadowing the flaws.


I thought about that experience and realized that, like my garden, I often look at my life in bits and pieces. I focus on the undone or the needs-to-be-done or the not done well, and rarely step back to take the longer view at what has been accomplished.

My garden has taught me that while life is full of details that demand attention, there is an overarching whole that must not be lost or ignored, but that deserves to be appreciated.

The next time folks pass by and compliment my garden, I’ll smile, say “Thank You,” and appreciate it with them.