Life in Vancouver

Lessons from a Balcony Garden

I spent about an hour recently on our balcony (I always want to say garden because it’s just ingrained in me, the same way I refer to our apartment as our house) sorting out all of our potted plants. It wasn’t a big job, we have plants lining the edges of the balcony predominantly because I’m scared of heights and it breaks up the edge a little, but also because they attract hummingbirds and look pretty!

As I worked my way through each pot it dawned on me that if anyone that knew what they were doing with plants was watching me at work, they’d probably be horrified at what they witnessed. I have no clue when it comes to plants. I watched my mother tend our family garden growing up, and helped with watering, but beyond that I never really got involved, I never asked questions. My parents even cultivated an allotment growing vegetables but beyond knowing it was there, that they were working on it, and often they’d come in with fresh produce for dinner, I wasn’t particularly interested in it. So when it comes to our own little “garden” I am very much making it up as I go along. 

I pull at roots, sift out dead bits of plants and re-pot things haphazardly, not knowing if I’m doing good or bad… 

I realised last spring that many of the plants I thought had died over the winter were actually in coming out in bud. The same happened again this year – some plants for sure looked like they’d had it, but on closer inspection tiny new shoots were there on the branches. The end of summer/autumn of 2019, I did spend a bit of time dead heading all the flowers that had seen us through the summer in hopes of them coming up again in the new year. And in spring I again spent some time pruning back the old growth to allow for things to grow. I watched a few YouTube videos on how to prune so I knew where to make my cuts, but I still was an absolute novice. 

Along with pruning in spring, early in the summer last year we planted a bunch of herbs and scattered some seeds (wildflowers, and scallions/spring onions). This was a new venture and very exciting to see things sprouting up and continuing to grow. We used the herbs all summer long and enjoyed watching bees visit the smorgasbord we laid out for them. 

From last year’s bounty and the continuing budding of plants it seems my haphazard approach is working out ok. I found a few of our herbs seem to have survived the winter (though the rosemary is now more like a miniature tree trunk with edible bits shooting from its bark…). Even some of the wildflowers still have their greenery so I’m waiting to see what happens there. 

And this is where it dawns on me the parallel of how I tend a garden is kind of how I live my life… Not so much haphazardly, perhaps the best phrase would be flying by the seat of my pants…

I realise that so often I jump into things before fully understanding them or their significance. This is on the scale of building Ikea furniture right the way up to moving to Canada…

The weird thing is, that the smaller scale things, I do spend a lot of time thinking over and planning. For example, when choosing which stroller to buy, I have done months of research, reading reviews and drawing up comparisons, but the time frame between deciding I was interested in going to Grad School and sending an application was probably about a month.

Don’t get me wrong, I do research serious things, just like watching YouTube videos before taking shears to my balcony plants (and, credit where credit is due – I have gardening shears, I was prepared!) – but it’s definitely not to the same extent that I do with the small stuff, or that most people probably do for the bigger life decisions.

One element of that, I think, is thanks to my husband, Tom. He isn’t a planner, and his outlook generally is that we can’t predict the outcome of things, and so many plans don’t work out, so why not just see where life takes you. To begin with it bugged me that he didn’t have stuff like a five year plan in his head, but now I totally appreciate the sentiments – that actually sometimes making plans is what limits us. For example, we applied to come to Canada for one year and then return to England. If we had stuck with our plan we wouldn’t be living and loving life in the place and way we are today. Being flexible opens you up to a lot more possibility.

Another element of it, is my Christian faith – I believe in God the Father, Son and Spirit; in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; that God created humankind as an act of love and creativity; and that He made us to participate in the Gospel. I think as a result of my belief in these things, I don’t always need to overthink my big actions.   

Sometimes it’s best just to trust and take a leap. In my gardening endeavours I base my decisions on if things seem logical – one of my larger plants grows wildly so I use my instinct as to where I should cut the branches or train it to where it should grow. If it goes wrong? Well, that plant has one less branch. If it goes really wrong? Well, that plant was nice while we had it. I apply similar strategy to life. Think something through logically, assess it, use my instinct, go for it (or not!). If it’s passed my logic/instinct assessment and it still goes wrong, the worst outcome is probably a good story, or a life lesson for next time!

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