By Katie LaFond
The abundance of life and webs of nourishment in the land where I live are fascinating and ever changing. Whether we are tending a hardy houseplant or doing our best to grow much of the food we eat, we are forming relationships with plants, critters, and fungi, and it is a wonderful way to deepen our relationships with the Sacred Earth.
The first thing to do is to become acquainted —and comfortable— with failure.
The ability to fail successfully is incredibly empowering. If you’re just getting started with a garden, you will make mistakes. The way you dance with those mistakes may determine how deep your relationship with your garden will be. I have grown so much from my gardening fails.
“Listen” as much as you “do.”
Spend time just observing in the garden. Sit in it, make it a beautiful comfortable place with flowers and plants you love, and have a comfortable chair. I have a section of the garden that my toddlers were allowed to dig in and it became a place we all wanted to be. I would notice what plants were doing well (those sunflowers really love that sunny spot!) and what plants didn’t seem too happy (is it too hot for those peas?). Before you even decide on a spot to plant things, spend time outside, observing how the light and water move through the day and seasons, and where the snow melts first. I also enjoy planting phenology, or watching for signs for when to plant things. Blooming crocus means it’s time to plant spinach. Daffodils are blooming when it’s time to plant beets.
Honor your boundaries and needs.
Some of us have a lot of time and energy, and a large garden with orchards and a flock of chickens makes sense. Others feel stressed out just by the thought of maintaining all of that. You are part of the relationship you’re building with the land. Listen to your needs and desires as you make decisions.
Enjoy your first date.
Speaking of desire, plant things that will bring you joy. I love eating tomatoes, I love fresh flowers on the table, and I am amused by fast growing plants, so the first year we lived at our home in the Hilltowns I planted tomatoes, flowers, and peas, and I mulched my plants because I don’t enjoy weeding. Listen to yourself, and get your hands dirty.
Commitment and perennials
Perennials are fantastic; herbs, asparagus, berries, and walking onions are some of my favorite friends in the garden, but they take time to establish. Take time to listen to where the plants want to be, think about where you can realistically commit to tending them regularly, and make the decision together. You can always replant, but it will take a couple years for them to sleep, creep, and then leap again.
Plants have friends and frenemies too
We all have different needs and wants, and some needs conflict. If you observe and remain open to your plants, they will often let you know if things are (or aren’t) working for them. I had a close call with planting some trees one year; the town offered a group rate on purchasing black walnut trees, and I liked the idea of nut trees on the land where I live. After I placed an order, I had a strange dream and a gut feeling that I should google walnut trees, and in fact, tomatoes won’t grow near walnut trees (walnuts create juglone which is toxic to tomatoes). My friend was two trees richer, and my tomatoes were glorious that year.
Begin to think in circles and webs.
So often, we think of input and output, and cause and effect, as if things have a beginning and an ending. Healthy relationships, like the ones we’re building with the land, are often more complicated. Listen and open to the Earth, nourish your relationships with it, and let it guide you as you plant, feed your soil with organic matter, encourage mycelial webs to stretch out their fingers to tickle roots, and dance with water flow in your garden. Notice what grows well and look up what it is telling you; different plants grow well in different conditions. If you notice that chickweed is abundant, perhaps your soil is compact, and you might want to grow some daikon radish to loosen the earth a bit. Have tea with the bees and plant flowers, bringing cycles of fertility to your garden and beyond. Feed the worms and microbes with compost, and then let them be; digging disrupts the fascinating and fertile communities that live beneath the surface.
As we in the Northern Hemisphere turn again towards the bright half of the year, I’m looking forward to the sleeping land waking up and stretching new green to the sky. I’m looking forward to warm sweaters and looking for the first snowdrops poking their heads through the snow. I’m looking forward to seeing how huge my heat-loving pepper plant will grow in the microclimate I have near the bricks and asphalt, and I’m looking forward to my children’s faces smeared with dirt and raspberries, with spinach in their teeth. Our relationship with the Sacred Earth is a blessedly messy one, and I wish you all the luck with your plant relationships this year.
In the Spirit of the Earth,
Massachusetts, March 2023