A Garden For Everyone (Else)

by Nate
dragonfly with sunflowers in the background

Last year I started my garden as a way to endure the p*ndem*c and practice resilience; and it was a smashing success. We filled our freezer (and our bellies) with beans and okra and had fresh salads all year long. When it came to putting food on our table, I did a pretty good job.

It was a first year garden which meant compensating for underdeveloped soil and a shortage of beneficials and pollinators, as well as my own rusty skills and lack of confidence. But I quickly found my way around the garden and it grew to match my enthusiasm.

At first it was all about us; I was focused on putting fresh food on our table and giving myself a creative and spiritual outlet. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that a gardening practice centered around what we, the humans, needed wouldn’t be very successful.

Gardening is the act of building a desirable ecosystem; deliberately selecting certain plant species which contribute resources you desire, and balancing the animal and insect relationships which coexist in relationship with those plants. I found that putting these non-human relationships at the center of a gardening practice generated far better results and required less effort to manage over time.

Gardens mostly grow themselves when they’re properly “managed”. A little weeding here and there, a little water if its been a dry / hot season…but a queue of constant interventions is a clear sign that your garden isn’t doing very well. In contrast, a healthy garden with healthy soil, good drainage, and plenty of light will flourish without much effort at all.

This year (2021), only my second to have a garden at this house (in Dallas, TX), was a different experience entirely. Where last year’s quarantine garden was a high touch endeavor, this year I barely did anything at all. The beds were already built, of course, but it was more than that. In 2020, I planted all store bought plants. This year, at least a third of the garden either came back naturally or grew from seeds I collected last fall. Last year I spent hundreds of hours solving problems in the garden. This year it tended itself, aside from culling and replacing plants.

The context (focus) of the garden changed as well, perhaps even more dramatically. Where last year’s garden was an escape, a way for me to pass the time while dreaming of a better future in Mexico, this year the garden became a living legacy.

Planning to move to Mexico this Summer forced me to invest time in the garden more selectively and the reality of selling the house (and leaving it behind) meant the garden’s entire purpose had changed. A big garden like ours is either a reason to get excited about buying our house or it’s a reason to keep looking elsewhere. It had to look beautiful, but also simple to maintain; or we’d never find a buyer.

But our garden represents more than a factor in the sale of our house. It embodies the effort we’ve put into improving our little plot of land -building our sanctuary, as it were- and the life-shaping lessons learned along the way. Last summer, in this “sanctuary”, I sort of rediscovered myself through a series of intense magical and psychedelic experiences. Woven into the fabric of this initiatory process, the garden became a rite of passage out of my old life and into a new one.

My change in direction (career, location, spirituality) had been long approaching but came to a head in 2020 while spending my time with the sun on my skin and my hands in the dirt. In the garden I found myself, rediscovered latent passions, and had the most intense gnostic revelation I’ve ever experienced.

The “science” of spirit lies in the field which connects all living things. Our relationality defines and empowers us. The universe is alive and spirit thrives in right relation to life. The cold materialism of modern belief systems rob our experience of life of its enchantment. Spiritual awakening is a process of re-enchanting the world; of discovering a living universe and engaging with it.

For an animist, gardening is a process of spiritual engagement. It’s a collaboration with spirits of place, both visible and invisible, to create a flourishing environment in which all can thrive in right measure. And the key to a healthy local field is biodiversity. The more abundant life grows in an area, the more abundant the spiritual anima infused within it.

Spending hundreds of hours in the garden last summer, as well as several days fried out of my gourd on mushrooms, showed me the importance of biodiversity -and how to positively affect it.

The world is in desperate need of more pollinators. Crops are genetically weak and increasingly vulnerable to pests and pesticides kill all the beneficial insects which might help protect them. Nutrients erode out of the soil faster than they can be artificially pumped in, polluting waterways from tributary streams to rivers, and flowing eventually into the ocean where the shift in pH wreaks havoc on the fragile marine ecology.

How we grow things matters. Our singular focus on increasing production (output) in the face of myriad ecological disasters is the root of the evils we inflict upon the earth. The solution isn’t more chemicals and more technology. Natural solutions to our problems have always existed, it’s just that they can’t be easily patented and monetized.

Nature can teach us to save ourselves and the solution is very simple. Increase biodiversity, aid in the flourishing of all life, and, in so doing, learn our natural place in the world. In addition, as life becomes more abundant, it also becomes more enchanted.

We started the garden to learn how to feed ourselves. Now we garden to “save the planet”. A wealth of bees, toads, and all critters “good” and “bad” flourishing together…this is what makes a garden healthy. Healthy gardens sustain themselves (and you) with few inputs (nutrients, water, etc) and even less effort. Biodiversity is the key to sustainability…

I added more flowers this year, to make the garden more beautiful, but also to provide more pollen for the bees. I expanded the “toad abodes” and other habitats for beneficials. I planted herbs and flowers in every bed to spread the benefits throughout the entire garden.

The result was a beautiful garden that didn’t produce nearly as much -but it looked amazing- with the sunflowers in full bloom right as the house went on the market (and quickly sold). Everyone did their part admirably. The soil was rich and fertile and I only fed it ash. Our flowers brought all the bees to the yard. Birds, toads, salamanders, dragonflies, and other friendly predators stalk the shaded areas I provided. Rabbits ate my greens to nubs and burrowed under the flowers. Aside from Texas’ notorious squash beetle problem, pests were generally kept at bay. My garden’s little ecosystem thrived without my interference and this is evidence of my success.

Gardens require balance, synastry, and systems-thinking to become successful ecosystems and, expressed on the macro, those same biological patterns scale up to create successful biospheres as well. Learning to help life flourish at home gives you the tools to do it anywhere.

This garden was my training ground…

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