What Gardening Has Taught Me About Life

by Fern on June 4, 2010

in General

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I’ve learned a lot about life through gardening, probably because it is such a contemplative hobby. I’d love to hear what, if anything, you’ve learned from your time spent among plants.

1. Failure is an opportunity to try again, this time with more knowledge.

A lot of people think that someone with a green thumb was born that way. I don’t think that’s really true. Green thumbs–at least all of them that I’ve seen–are earned by killing lots of plants and trying to figure out how not to do that again. I think we often forget how common it is to fail at something before mastering the skill, because we do the majority of our experimentation when are much younger. Kids are pretty resilient, but somewhere along the way we “learn” that failing is something to be ashamed of. The net result is that we stop trying something after failing once because we don’t want to risk failing again.

2. Enjoy where you are in life right now

For the longest time after I moved out of my parents house I intentionally did not have a garden. I’ve always had plants, but they weren’t something I thought much about or spent much time caring for. I was waiting to have a yard. Waiting to own my own home. How silly is that?! Yes, it would be wonderful to have my own dirt to garden in, but it is also wonderful to garden in containers on my balcony. You can’t be so focused on your goals that you  forget to enjoy, and make the best of where you are right now.

3. Perfection is not a worthwhile goal

It is not possible to have a “perfect” garden. Invariably a pest will sneak in and nibble on a plant before you notice and can react. Or a strong gust of wind will break some flower stems. Or any number of other “calamities” will happen that are largely outside of your control. And you know what. It’s okay. Last year I could not, for the life of me, get rid of the whitefly that were feasting on my iris leaves, but the flowers still took my breath away. Something doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be beautiful, worthwhile, or rewarding.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Juliet June 4, 2010 at 9:16 am

Fern – great post! Gardening (even in the limited fashion I’ve engaged in it over the years) has always been a “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again” kind of thing for me. Having done tomatoes in containers that weren’t too successful over the years (my mistakes, not a general statement), I have 4 going in a raised bed and so far, so good. I’m not this way with many things in my life, but for some reason, gardening failures haven’t gotten me down…so far. Just makes me want to try harder (with new techniques and maybe plants more suited for my yard)!


Mary C. June 4, 2010 at 9:57 am

All good thoughts and points :)
Great portrait btw :)



Rob J June 4, 2010 at 10:26 am

Gardening has always been an activity that is ripe (see what I did there?) for metaphorical value. Thanks for the reminder!


Susan June 4, 2010 at 10:30 am

Gardening has taught me to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings and not take life for granted. Most importantly, it has taught me to connect with my family in a way I never imagined….it sounds so simple yet it really is very profound.


rebecca Sweet June 4, 2010 at 10:31 am

My good friend, also an avid gardener, approaches her plant failures with this positive mantra: “just think….more planting opportunities!”. Which is a good reminder when a favorite just up and dies – maybe now’s a good time to try that plant you always wanted to try….

Great post, Fern!


Kristin June 4, 2010 at 10:39 am

Great post. I have found that gardening is a good way to watch how precious life is. From the early spring beginnings to the blanket of winter, each season has something to cherish.
Gardening has taught me paitience and to be respectful of Mother Nature.


Laura June 4, 2010 at 10:50 am

I look at every garden failure as an opportunity to redesign or replant. Your right every one of those moments is a learning experience, as I try never to repeat the mistakes that lead to the loss.


Jessica June 4, 2010 at 11:29 am

Gardening has taught me; Perspective, Gratitude, Humility, Reverence, Faith, Diligence….

I am a nerd of course, but for me, and probably for some of you, working in the garden is a spiritual experience and I feel I have learned through my experiences tending to my gardens and learning from my gardens so many life lessons.


Bob June 4, 2010 at 11:33 am

I’ve learned that as satisfying as it is to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor, it is much sweeter when you enjoy the labor as well.
Along with that goes the adage that hard work is character-building (and good for the soul).


Sasha June 4, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Awesome post, Fern. Gardening has reminded me of the importance of flexibility and trusting yourself. Just because you start doing things one way, it doesn’t mean that your outcome will go according to plan because unforeseen things pop up. The key is to use (and trust) your judgement.


Laura/Interleafings June 4, 2010 at 5:19 pm

I totally agree with the ‘garden where you are’ philosophy; I gardened at rentals for 10 years before I had my ‘own’ garden; invested thousands of hours (and, yes, dollars) in 10 years of gardening experience and education at five completely different garden sites. If I’d waited, I would have missed a lot, AND would be way behind! Lovely post, Fern; love the portrait!


melanie watts June 4, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Good thoughts Fern. Gardening has taught me to -appreciate the little things, delight in the first seed to sprout and flower to open.


Joan June 5, 2010 at 12:19 am

Good comments from one and all. Here I am thinking “patience” is the biggest lesson from gardening. Frankly, I’ve been away from it for 11 years and forgot how much I enjoy the activity.

My lessons?

1. Some things you just cannot control. Such as Weather! Plants and people have to ride the storm. Sort it out later.

2. Just when it looks bleak, take another look and see just a spurt of life there. Yes. there it is. Behind the damage, the pain, the broken and twisted bits — life begins anew. The broken branch grows off in a new direction. What I’d like to learn from my garden is how to Come Back even stronger. Bloom even bigger. And hold a bit less attitude — ha.

3. Consistency. Maybe those few moments of care here and there to pinch and prune and set things straight when problems are minor. Maybe that would be a good lesson. Small things frequently and then avoid the Big Issues later.

4. Be in the Now, be present. Tending the garden, even a small one like my own balcony, is a pure form of meditation in which the mind can be free of other thoughts. What I learned from my garden is that while I think I’m taking care of IT, it’s really taking care of me.

Okay, waaaay too much philosophy for me right now.


Amy@Green Gardenista June 5, 2010 at 10:08 am


I like what you said about learning to be where you are in life, and enjoy it for what it is, and what you have. I feel that gardening, and being more in touch with the natural world has really helped me to do the same! I can be so goal driven that I used to forget to plan enjoyment into the stage I’m in, and my focus for a few attainable goals would rob me of enjoying the great stuff that happens along the way. Great Post!


Roberta June 5, 2010 at 10:47 am

Life lessons from the garden! Great post, Fern.


Judy Maier June 5, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Dear Fern, what a great post! Absolutely a garden can be a mirror for life. Patience is one of the things I am trying to learn from gardening and nature … the fact that everything has a gestation period, and everything/everyone one takes their own time to grow and mature. Trying to rush nature along or trying to control it completely just does not work well. There are so many examples of this. One is organics vs chemicals.


Carol June 6, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Enjoy your blog. While I don’t garden from a balcony I don’t garden the 3 acres I used to anylonger. Gardening has taught me much through the years, and I blog about the comfort it gives me today. It has helped me carry the burden that is life.


Margaret June 7, 2010 at 5:42 am

Gardening allows me to concentrate on the task at hand, and forget (just for awhile) the problems that I’m dealing with in my life. Gardening is one of my greatest joys.


Monica the Garden Faerie June 7, 2010 at 6:11 am

Isn’t gardening a wonderful, healing pastime? To me, gardening doesn’t just bring out the best in plants or the landscape, it brings out the best in people. Through it, I’ve been able to become a master gardener volunteer, garden speaker, garden coach, and gardener for hire. I’ve met so many interesting, knowledgeable, and generous people, and I’ve been able to do things I never would have thought I could do, let alone enjoy.


Mike Lieberman June 7, 2010 at 10:05 am

Gardening has taught me what life is really about. It’s about providing for ourselves and not always relying on others. As a society we’ve become so reliant on someone or thing else doing things for us (like providing us with food). By gardening and growing your own, you can provide the most essential thing for yourself – food.


Lorraine June 7, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Gardening has taught me to build on my knowledge year to year, and that the learning doesn’t stop. I have my whole life to learn about plants, design, soil, etc… I used to try to set deadlines on what I wanted to get done but I think I live more in the present. Great post.

It’s also taught me that it’s what I truly love to do – it’s one of the few things I do where I get so wrapped up in what I’m doing I forget to eat or drink!


Janine June 8, 2010 at 12:31 am

Such a thoughtful post – and you are so right about enjoying life, here and now! I’m a newbie (and and oldie in some ways) to the joys of gardening both inside + outside plants, and can honestly say… it’s my most valuable teacher!


Vetsy June 8, 2010 at 8:15 am

” Enjoy where you are in life right now” Fern I’m glad you made that statement, it’s a very important one and one that I finally learned to accept and take hold of.

Every now and than I would complain about the weather in my cooler climate and my list of complaints would be long! because the growing season here in ( Michigan ) is so short, ” Oh how I wish I lived in Florida, Georgia , Miami, etc, But I learned to just take it all in stride and enjoy nature and my garden no matter how late it got started in the garden.


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