So you want to control your garden? You want it to do what you want it to do, to perform for you the way you always dreamed it would when you sat back on your couch manifesting your coziest cottagecore fantasies in the dour humid days of late summer? You figured, “If I plant it, it will grow, and the plants will love me and evolve into the pastoral fairyland of my dreams and it will be enough for me to prance about in my fluffy white dress (on occasion), and they will appreciate me for that and things will be perfect forever.”
I respect that. Who wouldn’t want that? Unfortunately, growing a garden is more than that. Growing a garden is growing a network. It involves stepping outside your comfort zone and also just plain stepping outside to make sure that the things you want to thrive are being nurtured, held, and paid attention to.
If you walk away from the garden that you hoped to see become your little glimpse of Eden and just let it ride on its own vibes for too long, things could be OK, but they probably won’t be fantastic, and certainly not fantastically magnificent. Let’s take a look at a few of the things that could go awry should you walk away from your lush land of loving ruffage for too long.
Weeds: There will be weeds no matter what. To expect ultimate control is to fight the entire universe, and you can’t cultivate much of anything if you are always at war. That said, if you make no effort to curb their reign, they will take over completely, and before you know it, no seed that you have planted will remain. Things will fall apart. The plant community that you thought you could always come back to and depend on will have disappeared altogether. And if it hasn’t gone completely, it will be in tatters and you will be a forgotten part of what once could have been.Don’t want to see it go down that way? Reach out to your garden every now and again, reach into the soil and yank out that which you’d rather not see there. Honestly, just by showing up at all, you probably won’t be able to help yourself, and your garden will be grateful for it. It is a conversation, it’s a checking in, it’s a cleaning up, it’s a hearing out. There will always be weeds, no matter how many years you have tended to your slice of heaven, because we are not perfect and we cannot expect the space we interact with to be any more perfect than ourselves. Weed your garden. Let it be a place that you always want to visit. Let it remain a place that remembers you and wants you to be there.
Feed your garden. If you do not feed, the soil grows fallow, and what you once loved actively suffers, smothers, regresses, and resents. Space is left for the kinds of plants that thrive in toxic environments, in dry cracked soils forgotten by the caretakers who once thought they were building a verdant community of happy, healthy plants. Vining plants will make your garden a shell of what it once was. Virginia creeper will literally creep on your plants and steal them away. Cayratia is nicknamed the “bush killer” and it will kill. Poison ivy is toxic to you and will make sure getting near your onetime plant posse is difficult at best. Those are just the vining weeds. Never mind the bidens, which will use its potent curative clout to spread its seed all over your little village of plants without a moment’s regret or a second of second thought, like a proper new age chaos magic fuckboi. These guys only thrive when you stop keeping your soil fresh, when you stop feeding your friends the nutrients they need to feel comfortable in their environment around you. They don’t need the water that the ones you want to keep around crave. If you walk away for too long and fail to nurture those you want around you, they will find themselves in new company and won’t even be able to see you through the foliage around them. You need to see the forest for the trees, but they won’t be able to see the tree that you are through the forest that’s grown between you.
If it gets too out of control, you may just want to whip out some pesticides and raze it all to the ground. Think twice before you go there. All that groundwork that you laid, sure, it got messy and it all fell apart, but if you tear it all down in one fell swoop, it can be hard to start from the ground up again. You’re better off coming to terms with the fact that while you may have neglected your space for longer than you should have, it’s better to try to mitigate the things that went awry than to burn it all down and find yourself with nothing. And anyway, you won’t learn anything that way.
If you find yourself forced to leave your garden because you simply cannot be there anymore, whatever the circumstances, recognize that it was always beyond your control, and this is just another manifestation of you having done what you could when you could, the best you could. It doesn’t mean you have failed, even if you didn’t try as hard as you could have. Take the transition as a learning opportunity. The lessons you’ve learned about yourself and all that you’ve grown around you will follow you onwards into whatever new soil you choose to cultivate, and you can flourish in the knowledge that you did and will continue to do the best you could for yourself and all that you help to blossom around you. So much of this world will always be beyond your control, but I hope you never stop growing.
If you’ve got questions for the Dirt Nerd, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit @hotplantsnursery.
illustrations by Rachel Speck