There’s a particular thrill of coming home, tossing off the work jacket, rolling up my pants, and heading out into a garden. Digging in dirt must be native to our humanity, somehow, because every gardener I know finds weeding, shoveling, planting, watching, and waiting undeniably stimulating.
For some, the garden is an extensive oasis of land and rolling hills in a backyard; for others, particularly city dwellers, our landscapes come in kitchen pots, terraces, outdoor containers, urban streetscapes, pocket parks, and the shared landscapes of our city parks. Accidental spaces – forgotten streets, community gardens, or volunteer efforts to reinvigorate a derelict space in the city – make up our shared garden spaces in the city today.
My current garden in the San Francisco bay area is a series of unfortunate mistakes and blunders: I’ve left pots out in the cold, put sun-loving plants in the bitter wind and chilly fog that takes over the city, and more recently, I’ve been battling an onset of critters that threaten to wipe out my entire summer garden. After setting up a garden spot in Sausalito (north of San Francisco), I’ve found that this new spot, while sunny, attracts deer, moles, voles, raccoons, cats, dogs, slugs, birds, and even an occasional human footstep – all of which painstakingly eradicated my eight large tomato plants, herbs, and bush beans before the 4th of July.
As a result, my increasingly empty garden is starting to feel like a series of mistakes. I don’t have the luscious, delicious garden that I had imagined in my mind. I have a small spot of under-watered grass, some herbs, a few zucchini, and only leftover dreams of large tomato plants for next summer. Frustratingly, I have to question myself: what can I, as a landscape architect in my day job, possibly offer as words of advice to other gardeners in other cities, when I am failing to even succeed in my own garden (or job, for that matter)?
Our views of our careers undergo the same stress and critique. Some days I wake up and I look at myself in my career and lament that the virtual “work garden” seems empty. Some weeks are filled with incredible efforts that feel under appreciated or slide into the wayside. We have plans and visions for our success in the workplace: we want to climb the career ladder, strike out on our own, and notch success ticks on the virtual measuring stick, allowing us to reflect on our accomplishments over time. We don’t want to be the same people tomorrow as we are today: our hopes and dreams of bigger salaries and more responsibility reflect our need for growth and accomplishment as people.
So I can’t seem to grow a few plants. This frustration hits close to home, however, because I would hope that my green thumb might shine a bit brighter. In the end, though, it’s not what the garden (or the work landscape) looks like today – for the raw components are constantly changing and my strategies for success at work continually evolving. It’s not just the plants that stuck with me (thankfully some zucchini are still growing strong!) that make me smile. Even the disappearing tomato plants make me laugh as I refer fondly to them as my “sunk costs” – for the most difficult plants to grow are often the most valuable teachers.
I have to remind myself as I stare out across the yard and at my pile-ridden desk at work, that the work efforts are not in vain unless I give up or fail to learn from the mistakes; today’s empty dirt lot is a blank canvas rich with learned lessons for tomorrow’s garden. (I know more about voles, moles, and raccoons than I would care to admit. I’ve installed fences, gates, placed garlic in the ground, sprayed deer fence, and even contemplated installing a night camera to identify the critters that wreak the most havoc.) At work, I may not have projects built (yet) and I am not a published author (yet) and I am still *just* a staff member, but the learning never stops.
“Gardening gets taken far too seriously. All I ask is that it should be enjoyable and stimulating and give a sense of place.” – John Hubbard, Painter, Gardens Illustrated, issue 162.
For Hubbard’s words on gardening, above, rings true for both my plant palette at home and at my borco-board covered drafting table at work: it should be enjoyable (it is, for the most part) and beyond that, I still can dream, and dig, and water, and play – and it all makes me smile, no matter how many plants keep disappearing. Don’t take gardening (or life) too seriously – even the best-laid plans sometimes fail. Right now the table is a series of paper piles; I hope in a few years’ time I have built landscapes to share with you, a wider blog audience for my writing, and possibly (although no promises) a decent backyard landscape to sit in and contemplate my next venture. Or just have a barbecue.
** This is an expanded version of a post originally written for Grown in the City, a Washington, D.C., based blog about urban planning and gardening. The post is a diversion from some of my previous posts, but still holds relevance for themes on this blog, so I thought I’d repost it here today. **—