Tips for staying motivated in the garden
“Our duty is wakefulness, the fundamental condition of life itself. The unseen, the unheard, the untouchable is what weaves the fabric of our see-able universe together.”
— Robin Craig Clark, “The Garden,” 2010
I haven’t read this book by English author Robin Clark, but it’s No. 2 (of 22) on Goodreads’ list of “best inspirational” books that “leave you feeling just a little bit better or motivated, or just hopeful about life in general...”
No. 1 is a book called “Veronica Decides to Die” by Paulo Coelho, so I don’t have 100% confidence in the list, but reviewers say “The Garden” is a mystical and beautifully illustrated fable about a soul’s journey toward enlightenment in a garden.
I certainly feel like a soul in search of enlightenment in my garden, so the book is on my to-read list for the insights it might offer. In the meantime, I think what Clark means by “our duty is wakefulness” is that we need to pay attention to our surroundings so we won’t miss opportunities to grow by opening ourselves up to things we haven’t yet seen, heard or touched.
The opposite of the kind of wakefulness Clark writes about is apathy: feeling unmotivated and a lack of energy to take action. I’ve talked to several gardeners recently who are feeling apathetic — the result, I think, of our politically contentious, physically unhealthy, mentally stressful, hot, smoky and fire-ravaged year, so far. No wonder we’re all feeling burned out.
However, if, as Clark tells us, motivation is the “fundamental condition of life,” then apathy is a primary obstacle to improving the condition of life, whether that life is our own, the plant and soil life in our garden, or all life on Earth. Apathy is a highly effective tool for preserving the status quo.
Apathy comes from feeling powerless to make a difference, but I find motivation in knowing that my garden can be a microcosm of the world I want to live in. It’s inspiring to reflect on what that world would look like and to work at aligning my gardening practices with that vision.
For example, I want to live in a world that values diversity, including biodiversity. I may feel inconsequential at making that happen in the world at large, but I can see the results of my efforts to support biodiversity in my garden: attracting birds by providing food, water and shelter; supporting pollinators by planting nectar and larval plants and avoiding the use of chemical pesticides; adding native plants; and managing the spread of invasive plants.
I also want to live in a world that operates as a global community. One way I can contribute to that ideal in my garden is to support a community of native and non-native trees, shrubs, flowers and ground covers that share similar growing needs. The members of a plant community “socialize” well with each other, thereby creating healthier, more resilient gardens and landscapes.
When I witness this happening within the plant communities I grow, I feel more hopeful that creating a global community is possible. We need only look to our plants for guidance — a practice called biomimicry.
Viewing the garden and our gardening this way stimulates motivation and action. After identifying what we want our growing spaces to be, we must assess where they are now and what we need to do next in order to move them closer to our ideal. This involves asking questions, seeking answers, learning new ideas, and experimenting with new practices.
Now that I’ve committed to increasing biodiversity in my landscape, the journey toward accomplishing that goal has led me to learn about planting a meadow to support pollinators and other wildlife, as well as to enrich the soil, reduce erosion and store carbon in the earth. These are exciting ideas that keep me “wakeful” to new possibilities.
Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, check out her podcasts at https://mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-literary-gardener and her website at www.literarygardener.com.