I must begin this post with a confession: I am a perfectionist, and I have been my entire life. It can be very helpful. It keeps me organized, makes me ambitious and conscientious, and helps drives me toward success in a lot of ways. However, it often holds me back from just doing things – from diving in before I feel completely ready. It also causes me a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Gardening, on the other hand, is NEVER perfect. In fact, it’s often quite messy (dirty even), and that has taught me a lot about myself and how I want to live my life.
Here are some of my reflections as a perfectionist gardener:
It’s never perfect. You can spend all winter planning your perfect garden. You can map out what you will plant, where it will go, and all of your succession plantings for the entire summer, but it won’t turn out that way. Your row of carrots won’t be straight, things won’t fit how you expected, and deer will eat your beets and you’ll need to plant something new in that space. Gardening has helped me learn to go with the flow and bring some more flexibility into my life.
You need to start before you’re ready. I wanted to garden for years but kept putting it off because I didn’t feel ready. I didn’t have time. I didn’t have space. I didn’t know how to start. Finally, last summer, in the midst of planning my wedding and a busy travel schedule, I realized that starting and trying was better than not doing it at all. Was it messy? Yes. Was it stressful at times? Yes. Did deer eat my beets? Yes. What is worth it? Absolutely. Now is always better than “some day.”
Failure is, and always will be, a part of the process. You plant things too close together, seeds don’t sprout, plants get diseases, deer eat your beets (can you tell I’m feeling a little bitter?), and sometimes you are the only person in Vermont to not harvest a single zucchini all summer. You make changes and get better next year. Then you have new problems to solve!
Imperfection is BEAUTIFUL! An estimated six billion pounds of produce is wasted every year, and much of that is due to aesthetics. Over the last half-century, we have come to expect our produce to look like it has come out of a machine, rather than grown in the ground. We expect it to be symmetrical, clean, and one solid color. Gardening, especially with organic methods, teaches you that just like people, fruits and vegetables come in all shapes, sizes, and colors – and that diversity is beautiful! Real food (and real people) are not perfect. Thank gourd for that!
The lessons we can teach kids (and ourselves) in the garden go far beyond nutrition and traditional school subjects. Let’s remember to celebrate our imperfections.