—By Anne Sorensen, president of the Yellow Tractor Project, who pours her love of gardening and education into nurturing garden projects with as many people in as many places as possible.
Some of us are driven by a passion to garden from the start…and some of us stumble into it, almost by accident. For me, it was a way to connect fundamentally with earth, nature, and my children…with a lot of fumbling experimentation!
I started ‘gardening’ casually, with houseplants and summer annuals in pots. We’d always had them as a child, so I reasoned that I could do that much. But, after the puppies and the indoor forced air/drafty window combination wiped out all those houseplants, I had to take other action to determine if I actually had a green thumb.
It was time for the big step of moving outside, where the environment was far less under my control.
The annuals in pots were fun, but there had to be more, right? I got to work in earnest, while children grew (and dogs continued to pursue all things edible indoors and out) and nature toyed with me. I quickly learned that the soil needed…help. Heavy clay is suitable to a few native plants (and I had to learn what those were, now that I was invested), but if there was any hope of me working in that soil, we had to work together. So began the soil amendments.
Memories began to come back, as years peeled away to remind me of time spent outdoors. There were wheelbarrow rides, “accidental” hose incidents, berry picking, flower picking, toads, frogs, snakes…seeing what the neighbor’s garden had, trading, bartering the fruits that sprang from the earth.
And how about peas fresh off the vine, or cherry tomatoes? The years have tumbled together now, but over time, we have tried as many things as we could in our backyard efforts. Carrots were mini without intention. The pumpkins turned out to be small gourds, which repurposed nicely in the fall.
There was the time the preschooler girls picked an example of every single flower blooming—including some that were a bit unique and rare—and presented me with the bouquet. How could I do anything but thank them with grace for their love? Some of those were flowers and bulbs we’d planted together!
What kick-started the blooming bonanza was a stop at the local plant sale, years ago. I was still in the houseplant stage, losing them with a regularity that was discouraging. I wandered and pondered how many “perennials” to invest in, how much I dared to try.
Very quietly, I walked up to a sweet older woman and asked my question. “Would you recommend this plant?” She sized me up and started with questions: Where will you plant it? How much sun will it receive? How is the soil? What about the drainage? I soberly answered them all, and then, to my surprise, she pronounced, “Just try it! What have you got to lose?”
This short statement changed my approach to the garden, and slowly, my life. What did I have to lose? Wasn’t life for living, trying, spreading one’s wings—teaching our children, sharing with our neighbors, engaging with time and seasons and savoring it all? I found some of the answer in the clematis pictured here, which has been growing for close to two decades. It has good years and bad. And it took me years, and cooperation from mother nature, to have the rose and the clematis bloom at the same time, but when it does, it is well worth it.
Over time, I began sharing success (and failure) stories with friends and neighbors. We grew community as we grew forward. I wanted to learn more, and read voraciously. I envied other garden zones intensely, sometimes loathing my own. (Gardeners have bad years, too.) Like all good stories, I fell back in love repeatedly with my own garden and my own work. And in the drought years, I could let it go. And marvel at nature’s ultimate resilience.
What did I have to lose? Jump into the world, embrace it and give it a try!