The Art of Growing: Everything I Learned about Life I Learned in the Garden
I come from many generations of farmers and gardeners on both sides of my family. Growing and tending to the outdoor side of things has always been second nature to me. But it wasn't until last year that I really started to "get it."
All the signs were there. I see now that it's no coincidence that my vision of Heaven is to be laying under the elephant leaves, eating a freshly picked mango from the tree, listening to the fish play circus in my Okinawan grandfather's pond.
I understand now why I find happiness doing the labor of pulling weeds, taking care of my yard, and growing vegetables. I understand now why my mom's favorite part of the day was watering her flowers and vegetables at dusk.
Thinking about how it now, it makes me feel like I'm a tiny but loud and giggly kid again watching from the second floor terrace as my grandfather watered his tropical jungle hiding in the middle of the city. Except, it's my mom silently in her own peaceful world standing just like her dad did using the same rainfall motion, trying to bring good and happy things to life.
And then it's me, as my own daughter watches from the back porch window as I water my flowers and plants, just like my mom, grandfathers, and great grandparents before me.
Beyond the fact that growing and gardening is scientifically miraculous, it is also a tremendous act of love and faith. By nurturing nature, we also nourish not just our bodies, but our hearts.
For the family, growing a garden together means building familial bonds through shared time, labor and experience. Working side by side with my parents, grandparents, and now my children, we honor our ancestors before us who taught us how to live from the land, and we honor the future generations to come by trying to preserve it through conservation.
As a cycle breaker of generational trauma, I acknowledge there are many things my culture has passed down that shouldn't have been. But I also want to honor the generational love that was passed down too. For my family, planting seeds is our literal and metaphorical act of generational love.
I think about my mom as a young girl in Okinawa and her entire extended family harvesting rice and sugarcane after a whole day at school or their day jobs. I daydream about what it was like for all of them to wear their backpacks of bundled harvest and walk it together to the local processing plant, where a busy McDonald's is now.
I try to visualize the stories about my grandpa in rural Arkansas clearing out a space in the woods behind the house to care for a secret personal pumpkin patch. He has loved pumpkins all his life. I've never seen him prouder than when he won for the biggest pumpkin at his town's fair. Growing pumpkins at 87 makes him feel as alive as he was at age 12.
We pass on love through plants when we make a commitment to grow together. We grow together when we grow together.
But growing and gardening is also an empowering vehicle of self care.
You don't need others to grow and care for nature. You don't need a lot of money or special tools to be successful (although it's nice). You just need water, light, a good foundation, space to grow, commitment, faithful care, and some luck. Basically, many of the same things humans also need to flourish.
Here are other lessons the act of growing reinforced for me:
Growing wild and free is always going to be easier than holding things back and trying to make them into what you want or think they should be. ALL living things deserve to grow how they want to grow.
Solid roots are more important than pretty flowers. Strength underneath prevents erosion and will keep you going long after winter has set in and there's nothing on the surface to show off.
Balance your perennials and annuals. There are things you should cultivate to grow every year without your help. There are also new plants worth planting from scratch every year. You need both for a happy ecosystem.
Plant and care for things that nourish you whether it's in your body or your soul. The world is very big, beautiful, and amazing. What you don't grow, others will. Focus on what nourishes you. Not what people tell you that you should grow.
Plants will fail. Seasons can be hard. Winter comes every year. But you have to have faith that spring will come around again. And guess what, there's plenty of plants that grow in winter too. You have to know in your heart that you can plant another seed and try again. Growing is not for the faint of heart, but it will strengthen you and get easier if you don't give up.
To plant is to love. When we grow, we are one step closer to trying to leave this Earth better than we found it. Same goes for people too.
One last thing, in my garden, I grow sunflowers. I love them for their extravagance. I love them for their vibrance and magic. I love them for their baseball seeds. Most of all, I love that they always turn to face the sun even when it's cloudy. When you can, be a sunflower. Reach for the sun and grow wild. It's never too late to start.