Learning to Plant

On Sunday, I planted my first garden. We planted it in a little corner of our back yard, where we hope the sun will be strong enough and the fence will keep out the deer. It's a garden built on hope.

I’m not a gardener. When I was a kid, my mother (a teacher) would keep plants on her windowsill all year long, and when they were wilting would give them to a co-worker to nurse them back to health over the summer. She would say things like “I don’t have a green thumb,” and my experience showed the same – whenever I tried to take care of a plant it died. (My mother outgrew this perspective; when she retired she had a beautiful sun room of plants which thrived in her care.) But I have stayed away from plants, feeling that they are better off without me.

But the Jewish environmental movement has a way of pulling you in to the special grace of planting. Two weeks ago I had the privilege of planting some beautiful little sprouts while at a meeting at Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in Connecticut. Fingers in the rich soil, tiny little plants in my fingers. It was a precious experience.

I kept asking, am I doing this right? Afraid to make a mistake. Hasn’t that been the story of my life! I realized that whenever people garden or farm, they learn as they are doing. They make mistakes. Maybe I’ve avoided plants because I was afraid of failing them, of failing myself.

As with most situations, being afraid to risk failure can keep you from learning anything at all.

My eight year old son is undaunted. He’s spent this year at his Orthodox day school, learning how to plant a garden in his science class. (How proud I am of our local Orthodox day school!) Once he told me that he didn’t learn much in science that day, because “he was working in the garden.” I said, “Weren’t you learning how to plant things and how to make a garden?” He said, “I've already learned that.”

I said, “Well, maybe you were getting the chance to practice.”

Indeed, it was true. When we got to the backyard with our tools and our grass-covered plot of land, he knew better than me what he was doing. Together with my husband, we turned the ground and removed the rocks and weeds, smashing up the hard clumps of soil under his instruction. A few hours, and we had our first little garden – with a few rows of cucumber and green bean seeds planted.

As we continued digging, I heard him saying to himself, “I’m so excited! I’m so excited!” He had been trying to get us to plant this garden for several years already.

I’ve warned him that I don’t know what’s going to grow in this garden. Will all of our sprouts be eaten by weeds and/or pests? Will anything come out of the ground at all? We can’t know.

That’s the thing about life. You have to plant without knowing how it’s all going to come up.

My son doesn't seem nearly as worried about this as I am. It's one of the many things that he is teaching me.

So, we made our first effort. Undaunted by the fear of failure, pushing past my desperate need to get it right, we’ve planted. Whatever comes of this garden, we will learn. And we will continue. As I’m learning, that’s life.

2 Replies to "Learning to Plant"

  • Sarah Rivka Schechter
    July 23, 2013 (1:31 pm)

    Wow, this is so inspiring! I, too, have what I call a “brown thumb.” It seems that I manage to kill every plant that’s ever been in my care. I do hope to learn one day how to do it right. I think it’s really important for gardening to be taught in schools. It’s a crucial skill to have because really the most eco-friendly food is that grown in your own backyard. It’s so true- You never know what’s going to grow, in life, no matter what you plant.

    You know what would be a great resource? Permaculture design courses for observant Jews. As far as I know there’s only one in existence and the link I have for it doesn’t seem to be working anymore. (I know there’s Eco-Israel but I was once looking into the program and found out that they don’t keep shmita and such there, which is problematic.)

  • Sarah Rivka Schechter
    July 23, 2013 (1:33 pm)

    Oh yeah, and there are permaculture design courses in the US but the non-residential ones usually happen on Shabbat anyway, and the residential ones are problematic due to kashrut even if they didn’t go over Shabbat. But I guess I should learn basic gardening before I get into that stuff….

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