I squatted in the soil, water leeching out from underneath my feet upon the weight of my body shifting over it as I pulled hard on the dead sunflowers I’d planted last summer. Standing at eight feet tall, they had lived, died, and very dry, had survived the entire winter standing as a garden of upright sticks in the soil since life hadn’t gotten away from me and I’d never been able to clear them out until today in the early spring.
The sun was high in the sky, the neighborhood was quiet, and I was alone with myself for the first break in a long while since my busy semester had begun. With the back of a gloved hand, I wiped beads of sweat from my forehead, unknowingly smearing dirt across my skin.
After I’d removed the sunflowers, I looked down at three surviving plants below leaves that had sailed down from the big oak tree that extended its long arms over part of my garden earlier in the Fall. They’d collected in large piles the wind had gathered, nearly hiding three plants that held special significance to me. Two of the plants my boyfriend had given me when we first began dating. He used to surprise me on special occasions with flowers on my front porch, some potted, some in vases, all of which warmed my heart, brought a smile to my face, and I cherished them. These two were my favorites, so I planted them, and now, frost-bitten, I stood over them with a hint of guilt and sadness. I hoped they would live if I tended to them. The third was simply a plant I’d bought the previous year, but I’d bought it with a friend who had given me a gardening gift card as a birthday present. I wanted to remember that gift. Plus, having the third plant there brought some symmetry to my otherwise chaotic little patch of soil.
I decided to leave all three where they were, and I spent the next four hours clearing the soil around them, pulling up old flowers, some living, some dead, remembering what a gardener friend of mine had told me one year when my garden was struggling to stay alive.
“What a pitiful sight!” He’d exclaimed when I brought him to my house to show him my sad garden, hoping he could diagnose the problem. He touched the soil and rolled it between his fingers. “Where did you get this soil?” He asked me. “It’s terrible.”
“I don’t even know. It’s just always been there,” I told him, looking forlornly at my wimpy flowers.
“I have some fresh soil and some compost that will do the trick,” he told me.
He returned a couple hours later with three big bins of dirt to add to my garden.
“Tear all this vegetation up, put these three bins of soil in, and then turn the soil to add oxygen to it.
“I have to tear up my garden?” I asked, devastated.
“Every year, you need to add some compost and you need to turn the soil over to add oxygen to it. It won’t be healthy otherwise. Your plants will always struggle.”
I nodded, looking at the flowers I’d watched grow from seeds. “Maybe I can save them?” I asked him, envisioning myself scooping each one out below the roots and adding them back in after I added the new soil.
“They’re not healthy, Becca. Just start fresh. Buy some starter plants or pick out some seeds.” He left me with a gardening atlas of just about every plant ever known to man in it. See what plants work best for your little plot here. Put taller ones around the edges and shorter ones in the front and middle.
I did everything he said. I pulled out all of my old plants, I added the soil he brought me, and then I spent an hour with a shovel scooping and flipping over the dirt, much like a giant much more natural version of somebody mixing dough in a blender.
By the end of that season, my garden was green, huge, and vibrant. I loved it. Every year, I’ve planted flowers in my tiny plot of land and watched them grow. Every year, it seems so strange when I get to the part where I have to take everything out so I can turn over the soil.
It seems counter-intuitive to destroy something in order to make it beautiful.
But as I garden, I find many parallels to life, and this is one of them.
Today, I tore out the old plants (saving the three special ones), turned the soil that was teeming with insect life (worms and other creepy crawly things that love healthy soil), and put in my new plants that will bring me life and color this summer.
Sometimes in life, we need to clear things out, get rid of them, let them go, do a little “pruning” and a little “turning of the soil” in order to become vibrant again.
It may not be easy. It may not feel natural. It may take work, sweat, patience, planning, and a willingness to see it through.We all need a little tending-to.
Standing tall, strong, and bright, we’ll be healthier, stronger, and happier because of it.
Start digging today!