Everything I needed to know I learned in a berry garden

An untended garden

I spent most of last week in my berry garden.  I once heard that Mother Nature is the mother of all—science, psychology, medicine, technology—we have learned it all sitting at the feet of the Mother of all things.

My berry garden is a good example.  The garden had not been on my radar since last summer . . .  neglected and alone through the deep snows of winter, blooming silently in the unfolding spring, pushed to the back burner by the need to plant a vegetable garden . . . .  When the spring clean up was done and the vegetable garden in, I finally screwed up enough courage to go into the overgrown berry garden.  When we first moved here, before we ever built anything, my brothers helped me to plow up a section of field and plant 24 blueberry plants.  I added grapes, strawberries and raspberries.

At first glance, my response was holy shit.  I was overwhelmed by the grassy, furry mess of it all.  I could barely face what I knew it would take to clear it all one more time.

Lesson #1:  Every project is overwhelming at its onset.  It looks impossible, undoable, hardly worth it.

I walked into the garden and saw hundreds of blooms on the blueberry bushes, a single leaf on the stubborn grapevine, a tangle of unwanted gone-wild raspberry bushes. I also saw bumblebees diligently moving from bloom to bloom in their own daunting task of pollinating every bloom so it could produce a single berry.

Lesson #2:  Practice patience—do each task fully and with due diligence.

And then an important moment happened.  Suddenly I saw how beautiful the berry garden could with each plant able to fully breathe in the sun and the rain, the dark soil circling each plant.  Or how it would be when each slender stem was bowed with the weight of ripening berries.  The picture that formed in my mind was so beautiful that I instantly fell in love with its great promise.

Lesson #3:  We must look at “what is” and then have the vision to see “what could be.”  If we do this fully, we fall totally in love with the open potential of “what could be.”  The feeling of being overwhelmed is magically transformed into excitement (even romance).   This is the fuel of true motivation.

I was ready to begin bringing about the new vision of what could be.  The first thing I needed to do was get organized for the work ahead.  Blueberry plants have fragile, shallow roots and must be approached gently—not ripped into with a tiller or even a shovel.  I couldn’t force my agenda on the garden without considering each plant . . . a simple but critical lesson.

Lesson #4:  Consider the needs of others in your planning.

Additionally, I had to think of what I needed in order to complete this task without killing myself.  I can be pretty one-pointed and compulsive about projects and harm myself in the process.

Lesson #5:  Consider your own needs in the planning process.

So, here is my tools and supplies list for getting started:

beach umbrella with handy garden stand that my brothers built for me (can be punched into the earth with a pipe to slide the umbrella into—easy to move for instant shade)

  • garden tools—pitch fork, small claw tool, gloves, a snow sled for moving stuff around
  • personal tools—water, bug repellent, foam pads, sun visor, clean white dishtowel (for mopping the brow, covering the shoulders or repelling deer flies)

Lesson #6:  Carefully consider the right tools for the job ahead—and make the task as easy and comfortable as possible

Now—to work.  In truth, there was no right place to begin—anyplace would do.  For this particular job, the process is to use the pitchfork to pierce the ground, lean down on it to loosen crab grass and weeds, and then place the umbrella and plop my butt down and begin pulling (focus on only 3-4 square feet at a time).  When that patch is cleared, check a final time with the pitchfork to make sure the soil is nice and loose.  Take a drink of water, begin again.

Lesson #7:  Work with focus and intention in one area until it is done well, and then feel rewarded by the smallest success (drink the water). 

Also . . . refrain from looking at the whole job and do keep the lovely vision close in the mind

Repeat.  Row by row, inch by inch.  I hand pluck the grasses and weeds beneath each plant while looking at loads of lovely green berries; and when I would get too hot or tired, I’d stop and go to the lake to swim.

Lesson #8:  Know your own limits and pay careful attention to the signals while minding your P’s: patience, persistence, perseverance, and pretty picture.

At the end of each session I took the time to appreciate the newly cleared ground and also to haul the pile of weeds and put them into the compost bin.  I also made sure to carry compost, pine needles, and straw to hug each newly released plant.

Lesson #9:  Clean up after yourself.  Leave no messes behind for the next day (or for somebody else to take care of).

I moved slowly over the next week taking real pleasure in the progress.  I was meditating on new green berries as well as the thought of pulling frozen blueberries as large as my thumb out of the freezer next winter.  At the same time, I had flashes of frustration, discouragement, exhaustion and the fear that I’d just have to do it all again later this summer.   The thoughts I realized could be handled the same way I was doing regular tick checks.  Scan the body (or the mind), pluck the little buggers off, and go on.

Lesson #10:  Fear and doubt (and sometimes ticks) are present in any new endeavor.  Just deal with them and move on.

Finally, I had cleared most of the garden except for the southeast corner that was horribly overgrown with a non-producing pesky raspberry plant.  I called a friend and asked if he would mind coming and doing a bit of tilling for me.  No, it was not a football field . . .

Lesson #11:  Sometimes drastic situations call for drastic measures.  Act quickly and without hesitating.

Maggie and David came over on Friday night with a tiller.  Unfortunately, as soon as David unloaded the tiller, Mother Nature turned her faucet on and the skies opened up.  Milt, Maggie, and I huddled under an over-sized beach umbrella and watched as David fearlessly tackled the earth beneath the raspberry bushes.  What a man!  I owe you one, David.

They also brought pots of beautiful new raspberry bushes to put into the newly tilled ground to make the picture even prettier!   (I love adding new plants that came from other peoples’ gardens.)   We ended the evening with a hot shower (for David), a toss in the clothes dryer (for Maggie), and a nice cold beer.  You looked sweet in my sleeping pants, Maggie!

Lesson #12:  Be thankful when others come to your aid.   There is no substitute for good friends and family.

Now my task is to do a bit of maintenance to keep the weeds from taking over again—more mulch, straw, compost, wood chips and do weekly walk throughs with the stirrup hoe, etc.

And enjoy the fruits of my labor beginning with the strawberries in another week or so . . .
So beautiful!





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Everything I needed to know I learned in a berry garden — 3 Comments

  1. Jamie,
    Your berry garden story was exactly what I needed and when I needed it. Some recent financial setbacks and family logistics issues had caused me to step away from my dissertation process. Your Lessons are spot on and I can totally relate them to what I have been feeling. Thank you for all of your wonderfully written stories and articles, as they always help me to cope or simply appreciate all that Life presents to me. I will use these lessons as my plan for moving forward through my dissertation process and life in general. I am most grateful for this most recent offering and encourage you to KEEP THEM COMING, please! <3

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