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Gardening: A Lesson in Failure

When it comes to gardening, I’m a bit of a schizophrenic. You never know what you’re going to get from year to year.
Gardening: A Lesson in Failure

Growing up, my mother had an enormous kitchen garden and during the summer months she sent her children outside to pick weeds or fill gallon ice cream tubs with beans for an hour a day. The ground of that garden was double-cursed—first by God and second by all those grumpy Lang children with sweat dripping off their noses.

But once I grew up and had my own home, my attitude completely changed. I spent hours trying to make something of the dry, rocky soil of our Texas flower beds, only to be utterly bested by drought and my own ignorance. Logan used to tease me about my “black thumb”. One day I was bemoaning the death of my bonsai tree and said, “I don’t understand! It said that all you had to do was water it every day and it would be fine!?” “Well,” he asked, “Did you water it every day?” “Um…no.”

Then there was the year that we somehow lucked into having a community garden with a man who had his masters in botany. I reveled in those huge tomato plants and cooked with the basil leaves I plucked every night. Even though I turned on the sprinkler every morning and weeded every week or two, I basically just rode the coattails of our friend into vegetable garden bliss.

The next year brought utter tragedy as I attempted a garden on my own. I worked so hard! Weeded so regularly! Spoke tenderly to the plants every morning! The few plants that actually produced had a small yield and bitter tasting fruit. It was so confusing and discouraging that I nearly walked away from gardening for good.

After abandoning any notion of gardening for two whole years, this spring I sent a humble text to my friend Torrie, asking for her advice and help with my vegetable garden this year. “Tell me exactly what to do,” I said. Even with her expert advice and patient replies to my dozens of texts, I’ve still had multiple failures already. Not a single seed germinated from my initial batch of plants. Once I got some to see the light of day, a gust of wind knocked over the whole tray of squash plants. Birds ate the first strawberry harvest.

But I’m realizing that this challenging journey is part of the joy of gardening. It’s a long game, the kind of hobby that requires enormous effort and strict consistency for months before seeing any kind of reward. There is no instant gratification here. Even if I see an entire year of failure, I can chalk it up to experience and try again the next year, putting into practice the lessons learned.

It’s a lesson in humility, patience and fortitude. And then at the sight of a single red strawberry, small and plump and shining, it is a burst of surprise and pride and delight.