Gardening and the Vulnerability of Doing Things

I started my vegetable garden on May 22nd on a patch of ground on our central Vermont hillside. By “started” I don’t mean transplanting seeds I started indoors – or even purchased elsewhere. I don’t mean making rows and planting so the seeds can burst forth as soon as the sun warms the soil. No, I mean the latter half of May is when I first put spade to sod and started the laborious process of turning field into garden with hand tools.

The hugel beds in process.

Of course, making beds took way longer than I thought it would – specifically because I decided to make hugelkultur beds which are built with decomposing wood, plant material (in my case sod), compost, and sod. All this meant that by Memorial Day I had no more than 45 square feet of ready-to-plant soil and a huge packet of seeds. This, of course, is the moment I chose to begin research on when and how I should start planting…

The first consequence of my failure to plan was space. By the time the end of May rolled around I knew I did not have time or energy to turn over any more soil. Looking over the spacing requirements for the veggies I most wanted to plant became a demoralizing exercise. Well – looks like we’ll get one salad of the garden this year! I was feeling quite sorry for myself. My shoulders ached from hauling wood up the hill for the hugel mound and turning up sod by hand. I didn’t have enough hours in the already-late spring days or the energy to make more beds. It became clear rather quickly that I’ll be enjoying the fruits of other people’s gardens (and their planning) for most of the growing season. I can expect my first fresh picked vegetable sometime in August.

This is all terribly embarrassing for me to admit to you. You see, I grew up in the garden. Many of my friends are farmers. I volunteered at farms and worked on a farm. I don’t think of myself as a beginner when it comes to growing food, but yet, I am. This is the first time I’ve done my own garden and that endeavor is a whole other bag of potatoes (of which I’ve planted zilch.)

This idea that I ought to be more competent in a certain area than I am (or feel like I am) is a regular source of spiritual fodder for me. I don’t know when, why, or how, but at some point in practicing a new skill or art, I get the crazy notion that I suddenly need to be really perfect at that thing. This little demon voice, demanding perfection, accepts no mistakes and no learning curve. Of course, this makes things NO FUN AT ALL and it is oh-so-tempting to just forget the whole thing and retreat to things that don’t feel as new and uncertain.

I don’t experience this just with gardening – this little perfectionist monster has poked and prodded my musical endeavors, my writing, my baking. Basically, all the creative outlets in my life – all the ways in which I enjoy bringing life into form.

Shaping raw material – sound, words, flour & water, seeds & soil – into something more beautiful and nourishing than the raw stuff is what it means to create. The humbling nature of creating something is that what was once inside me – ideas, inspiration, knowledge – is suddenly outside me. It is utterly new and can be experienced by others apart from my commentary and clarification. They hear, they see, they taste a part of my heart that I lovingly poured into the music, the poem, or the bread. Ugh. Is there much in the world more vulnerable than this? This fear of others interacting with my created forms – poking, prodding, judging – has kept too many songs unsung, poems unwritten, gardens unplanted, and dreams unpursued.

This is part of the nerve-wracking thrill of this homesteading endeavor – incarnating inner dreams. I’ve never had a shortage of dreams, of ideas, of inspiration, but I have often feared this terrifyingly beautiful step of making them real. Choosing to steward this Vermont hill – to shape it into a home, a productive landscape, a place for hospitality, creativity, and prayer – is a radical step in bringing a big dream into form. You know what that means? In the dream’s process of becoming real, it’s going to lose a lot of its current gleam. It will get dragged through the mud and need a slew of patch-up jobs.

Like my little garden, many things will fall through the cracks, the timing will be off, and the rows won’t be straight. I’ll make big mistakes along the way. I will be faced with my inadequacy and my over-identification with perfection. I’ll need to grow if I want to keep doing this thing.

As my dreams become real, so will I.

One hilarious consequence of my poor planning – my first harvest was this lovely sun gold tomato (photo taken a couple days before consumption). Not many Vermont gardens reap a tomato before anything else, but hey! I grew a tomato! 🙂

You want more details about the garden? Sure!

As I was trying to figure out how to get anything out of the beds I built, Mark told me about a book we had stowed away called The Square Foot Gardening Method. As you can see, you divide your bed into foot by foot squares and plant in squares rather than rows. I was skeptical, but Mark assured me that he has had success with the method so I decided to give it a shot. I was totally re-inspired when I realized how much could be planted in such a small space this way!

Where I put plants was still quite haphazard and a little crowded for some of them, but things are definitely growing. We’re having kale out of the garden for dinner tonight and I’ve already popped too sumptuous sun gold tomatoes in my mouth! If nothing else I’ve learned a good bit about gardening the hard way – which means there’s a chance I’ll remember what I learned by next year. 🙂

Oh – and where did those beautiful tomatoes, cucumbers, winter squash, and brussel sprouts come from? They were leftover starts from good friends and good neighbors who were way ahead of me. Doing real things + vulnerability = discovering the good gifts of community!

Last Saturday: June 25

Chard. Kale. Kohlrabi. Tomatoes. Cucumbers. Beets. Brussel Sprouts. Onions. Snap peas. Carrots. Winter Squash. Mmm…


Today, a week later: July 6

They’re happy!




7 thoughts on “Gardening and the Vulnerability of Doing Things

  1. I love a lot about this post. The title for one. Creativity is really an exercise of humility isn’t it? And I absolutely love seeing real garden pictures… Esp. On blogs. Will share this to my Wonderscape page. Good thoughts.

    Also, I am all for jamming plants together. We don’t have enough room on our lot to garden the way my mother did; I puut triple the amount of things in the same space she would, just out of necessity, but you know, even if I had an acreage I would do the same now. I love seeing the little jungle canopy in my backyard and it sure helps conserve moisture.

    Thanks for the update! Was waiting for it!


    1. I LOVE gardening in such a small plot! The jungle effect is so lovely and I think there’s a lot to be said for limiting the amount of exposed soil. I’m so glad I didn’t dive in with a rototiller without experiencing this method first!

      Thanks for the encouragement and sharing with your Wonderscape community! ❤


  2. brittany

    Your garden looks wonderful!! We contemplated square-foot gardening this year as well, but ended up doing rows again, just shorter ones as hills. I totally understand what you mean about feeling like you should know how to garden, given our upbringings (and other experiences) but it IS so different when you’re the one doing it all!!! (I feel like we talked about this in PA)
    Also… I’m quite jealous of your tomatoes…. ours are going to be quite late this year… and none yet. 😦


  3. Thanks, Brittany! I almost didn’t plant tomatoes – Vermont isn’t their preferred climate and I thought it should start with what loves it here. I changed my mind when the farm my friend works at had a bunch for free. So they’re doing much better than I was expecting! And just so we’re clear, I’ve only harvested four tiny sun gold tomatoes so far. It will be a while until the rest are in! If the larger ones ripen anytime before frost I will chalk it up as a victory! 🙂


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