Digging in the Dirt: My Garden's Gift to Me

12/06/2010 04:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This post was written just before the end of 2009. I thought it made a wonderful holiday greeting, so here it is again, your holiday card from me and my garden!

My garden gifts me wonderful things all year long, but this year I think it sensed I needed a bit more -- maybe a sign?

As an edible landscaper, I have a front yard plant palette that includes many beautiful edibles; cool season veg in striking colors of all greens from emerald to sea foam and all reds from bronze to true red. There are lettuces, kale, spinach, fennel, dill, onions, garlic (even a tomato plant that I couldn't bear to rip out)... a veritable collection of plants that nearly flash an "eat here" sign to egg-bearing Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies).

In my teaching, I've espoused a practical view of our roles as home farmers working in harmony with our natural world; that we plant "one for the farmer and two for the critters". We strive to control damaging pests, never eliminate them which is both impossible and unwise as it puts our soil food web out of balance with nature. Of course, there are situations that call for a different course of more invasive action that includes organic biological and natural chemical controls - always as a last resort. In fact I've written about this many times on the Home Grown Edible Landscapes website and fan page on Facebook.

Having this "caterpillar buffet" out in my fall and winter garden this year, I was "armed and ready" for cat warfare! Funny thing though -- they didn't show up. So I disarmed and relaxed. Always watchful when it comes to my garden, I did keep looking for signs of disease and pests, but something was different. I was calm because I was listening to my garden in a way I hadn't before. Yeah, I know -- you're thinking "she's finally cracked," "she's over the edge," "Next her plants will be talking to her!." No, not quite at least not with words. Maybe some of you know what I mean. We, my garden and I, were in balance. Soil was healthy. Companion plants were doing their jobs. Plants had everything they needed. A very wise man, a man beyond his time once said: We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot (Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1500s). When we truly "listen" to the nature around us, underneath us, stop fighting it and start working with it, that is when the magic happens. I just let my garden do it's thing.

One day, I noticed some new visitors on my fennel plant. They were Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae! The fennel plant was so big that these guys (I counted four) really weren't doing much damage. The plant didn't seem to mind so neither did I!

One day last week, I took my camera out to take a holiday garden picture. I took this picture of an inspirational sign I've had for years in my gardens. As I focused the camera, I noticed something a bit different (see slide #3).

My Garden's Gift to Me

If this isn't a message from my garden, then I just don't know what is! I felt filled with the spirit of the holiday more intensely than from any of my usual rituals (putting up lights, decorating the tree, wrapping gifts). This was something very pure...very personal. Maybe only gardeners will understand this.

And a few days later, another gift. Chris, the Christmas Caterpillar, (yes, I named him!) went into chrysalis on Christmas Day (see slide #4)! Chris pupated for about 2 weeks or so.

Now, as in most messages from nature, interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. If I was a purely practical, linear thinker this would just be a convergence of the most natural occurrences leading to the most logical outcomes: the host plant's proximity to the BELIEVE sign and the creature's natural instinct to find the most sturdy, upright object on which to attach its chrysalis. But if I were a romantic (duh), I had to be struck by the poetry in this -- and I certainly was.

As I visited Chris daily to monitor his progress, I was reminded about what this metamorphosis represents to me:

Transformation -- out of ugliness, beauty comes.
Rebirth -- from its darkness, this creature reemerges in sunlight.
New beginnings. New possibilities.

I will think of what my garden gave me this Christmas as I near the end of this year and begin, not only the New Year, but also the new decade. A lesson of balance, peace, acceptance, calm and love.

I send my best wishes to you for a very happy new year and an equally happy garden.