The Most Important Gardening Tool Is Hope

Despite my mother’s attempts to teach me to appreciate the magic of planting seeds, I’m only becoming a gardener slowly. I’ve experienced the beauty of flowers blooming outside my back door and the joy of picking tasty tomatoes from vines in my own yard, but I’m still reluctant to garden.

Don’t get me wrong. I love gardens. My dream house is an English cottage covered with roses, flanked by a garden with banks of flowers that spill over the fence. But I don’t love gardening. I love the idea of gardening. The reality of gardening is not as attractive as the dream.

One of the rose bushes in our Colorado yard.
One of the rose bushes in our Colorado yard.

There’s so much work to do, lots of watering, weeding, and waiting, and what do you get for all your efforts? Disappointment. Because something is bound to die.

My sister insists that this is only part of the gardening experience. “It’s all an experiment,” she says. “You plant things and wait to see what happens. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t.”

I’m not so sure about the “some of it works” part. I’ve spent years unintentionally killing house plants by underwatering them until they are nearly dead, then overwatering them until they really are. I’ve killed succulants and spider plants and African violets with my distracted love. Any plant that can photosynthesize knows I’m death on two legs.

On the up side, gardening means the plants are outdoors. They aren’t relying solely on me for their survival. Sure, they’re up against the elements, but they will get sun and rain as the gods see fit, instead of only getting watered when I remember. It’s no longer all my fault if they die.

As a result, I take a pretty relaxed approach to planting. I figure there’s nothing I can do to guarantee a seed will sprout and grow. I will do the work that needs to be done but nothing fancy. After that, the plant is on its own.

Most likely, I wouldn’t bother trying to garden at all if it weren’t for my husband. Kurt loves growing his own food. He’s particularly fond of fruit, so we have cherry, plum, apple, and peach trees, as well as blueberry, currant, and gooseberry bushes. We have a huge strawberry patch and raspberry bushes that are trying to take over the yard.

Every spring, he’s willing to prune and spray, to water and feed, all in the name of fruit that may or may not appear months later. Some of the trees are still young and not really bearing yet. The birds often beat us to the berries or the best time to harvest passes by unnoticed. We are lucky to get a handful of berries to eat. Still, he goes out every year, eager to grow things.

Part of our strawberry patch.
Part of our strawberry patch.

Kurt is willing to put up with the frustration and disappointment of gardening because he doesn’t expect any. He’s an optimist, and optimism is what it takes to be a gardener. You have to believe that if you plant it, it will grow, that the effort that you make is going to pay off in the end. Otherwise you wouldn’t bother to do all that hot, back-breaking work in the first place.

The next best thing to being an optimist yourself is to be like me: an optimist-in-training. It’s not in my nature to be optimistic. I always see the looming problem, the potential obstacles, the many, many ways things could go wrong. But hanging out in our yard with my husband, I am little by little learning to have hope.

This past weekend, I planted lots of seeds with hope. I am dutifully watering them, pretending that they will sprout and grow even though I am involved in their care. I don’t expect any of it to actually produce plants, but I’m willing to act on faith. After all, Kurt tends to be right about a lot of things.

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Kit Dunsmore

Kit Dunsmore has believed in the magic underlying the muggle world since she was a child searching for the Shetland pony pooka she was sure was hiding in her back yard. She learned early on that books were magic doors into other worlds, and that she could revisit a beloved character or place by opening the right book. As she grew, she decided she wanted to make magic with words, too. Today Kit writes about things she loves: poodles and dragons, witches and artists, quirky underdogs and loyal friends. Whether her setting is 6th-century England, the imaginary Twelve Kingdoms, or an art-obsessed version of modern America, magic always finds its way into her story. She enjoys turning fairy tales inside out and watching characters sacrifice everything to reach their goal, but she also believes in happy endings. When she isn't writing, Kit experiences magic by making things with her hands. Over the years, she's made quilts, fabric sculptures, collages, sweaters, and blank books. Her newest interest is learning how to spin her own yarn, a skill guaranteed to strengthen one of her many delusions: that she is a self-sufficient pioneer woman. She also thinks she is a hobbit, a witch, an artist, and a good cook. Living in the foothills of Colorado, Kit enjoys the giant skies and prairie landscapes which suit her need for wide open spaces. In addition to hiking through glorious scenery with her husband or imagining herself living in the Middle Ages, Kit works as a pillow for her miniature poodle and polishes the next small piece of her handmade life.

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