As I get older I have noticed that I get slower at learning new skills. I am trying to learn how to load photos onto the blog ( I have sort of mastered taking the actual pictures, but getting those little data into the computer in the right place and at the right size confounds me), and also, unrelated to gardening, to learn to crochet granny squares for an afghan. These two skills are different from one another, but they both still have me feeling overwhelmed (and, honestly, a little stupid, which is not a feeling I like at all). There is a tiny, little voice, very deep down inside, which keeps worrying that I will never master either of them. I guess this means that I will have to buy a blanket, and keep relying on my children to download my photos. The impracticality of the latter, at least, will be apparent when you notice that there are no photos accompanying this post.
There is a different kind of learning, however, that seems to elude each of us regardless of age. These are bigger life lessons, to one or more of which each of us seems to have some personal blind spot. Most can be summed up in a phrase. The one which I seem to have to re-learn every single day seems to be along the lines of “Just Do It”. I prefer my cliches from Ben Franklin rather than corporate America, but this is the best way to express this daily personal blind spot. Every time that I spend any significant time out in the garden, more than an hour or two, I am amazed at the numbers of times I create mental barriers to achieving the task I set out to achieve. I want to plant the Heptacodium. The Heptacodium is stuck (without benefit of a pot) in a pile of other shrubs that are also not in pots. Therefore, ripping the pile apart exposes all those already abused root systems to yet more abuse, since it is a hot, dry and windy day. So, the Heptacodium doesn’t get planted today, even though I have researched its siting needs and cleared a spot for it, because taking the pile apart to reach it and then reassembling the pile, or potting up all those shrubs seems too–what? Taxing? Time-consuming? Guilt-inducing that I have treated these plants so badly? Hot?
I did get a Corylopsis planted even though it took almost two hours. The brush had to be cleared, and then the soil was too gravelly, so I dug it all out, picked all the gravel out, and then amended the remaining dirt with lots of organic material. I re-contoured the slope to facilitate drainage and then watered and mulched it well. That job I just kept going, even though there were obstacles. And I actually did it. But at almost every step I heard my inner voice warn of problems. Oh, the soil is too rocky; oh, the space is too small; oh, this site is too sunny; oh, the slope drains the wrong way; oh, the branches keep hitting me in the face while I am working.
For me, for this particular stumbling block, the lesson is that I have to keep pushing through. That there is a solution to the problem, that the activity can be COMPLETED. I don’t know what the issue is, if it is perfectionism of some kind, or distraction, but honestly, I think part of it is laziness, which manifests as an unrealistic mental picture of how hard I need to work on any particular project. I don’t know where we get our perceptions of what work looks like, but I am guessing that, like portion size and the appropriate length of time for a shower, it come from our childhoods. As a child of the fifties and sixties did I somehow absorb a leisure ethos rather than a work one? I do know that as a middle class child I did not see many people doing very much manual labor, which is what gardening is. So maybe I keep thinking on some level that someone is coming to do all the pesky little actual actions that will get these things done.
In any case, I seem to have a timer in my head that goes off and, even if the project isn’t done, I move on. As a consequence I have three Sisyrinchium sitting in their pots, where they have been since April, right next to the big ceramic pot where they were supposed to spend their summer. It is almost August, they are getting sadder and browner around the edges, and I still haven’t finished the project. There are vignettes like that all over the garden, plants that have been pulled out of the ground to get potted up to give away or for the sale, plants that have been placed, but not planted. I have the feeling that, like a lot of bad habits, this one just needs the application of a good habit to over-ride it. Like scrubbing my sink or making my bed I can re-program myself to make it painful to leave something uncompleted. I still have the Shoulder Angel/Shoulder Devil argument about bed-making each morning, but at least now the Shoulder Angel always wins. I need to get a winning horticultural Shoulder Angel, too (and she needs to bring her paper-work completing cousin when she comes, because my messy desk is the next issue to tackle).
Every journey begins with a single step. I am off to plant the Sisyrinchium, then I am going to get the Heptacodium out of the pile. Then I am wisely going to stop being disciplined for today because too many “have tos” will surely turn the joy to drudgery, and I will just have a new Shoulder Devil to deal with.