The garden and I are wintering

Our garden beds are wintering.

The kale and onions that we planted along the edges of our beds are struggling, but the fava beans running down the middle are tall and sturdy and full of little white and black blooms. 

From what my now-designer brain remembers from college soil science classes, there’s magic taking place at the roots of these plants. 

Like all plants, fava beans uptake nitrogen from the soil. But legumes do something uncanny: they can actually absorb and fix nitrogen from the air! 

My memory is fuzzy on this next part, but they do this because of a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria that forms on the roots in little white nodules. The bacteria draws in extra nitrogen from the air in the soil and converts it (“fixes” it) into something plants can use. If you cut the fava bean plants down and let them decompose in the soil, extra nitrogen will be saved in the soil for your next round of plants. 

This is important in farming and gardening because nitrogen is a key nutrient used by plants, so it’s often depleted in the soil. That’s why chemical fertilizers are used, but synthetic fertilizers are harmful for a number of reasons

So growing cover crops like fava beans is a cool thing to do! It’s also, like so many gardeny things, a very handy metaphor.

Because it turns out, I’ve been wintering too.

Like the garden beds, I’ve been rooted in sturdy client work that keeps me busy and paying my bills. But the creative plantings that I’ve experimented with along the edges have been withering.

One thing I’ve learned over recent years is that I need both to keep me happy. Both the sturdy client-based interactions that help me stay personally grounded (as much as they keep food on my table), and the creative side projects and volunteer activities that allow me to explore, grow, and play.

Wintering is also a good metaphor. It’s good to remember that there’s a cycle to our inspiration, times when we’re drawn to nurture ourselves in different ways. 

I guess I’m the soil in this metaphor? Or maybe I’m the winter? Or perhaps the symbiotic relationship? Or maybe this metaphor has served its purpose…

Regardless, do you recognize you’re a period of wintering too? Whether creatively, adventurously, emotionally, or in some other area of your life that you value and dream of? If so, here are a few gardeny tips for you:

  • Plant along the edges. I have a friend who dreams of starting a business but doesn’t feel ready to launch yet. She does, however, send out a monthly newsletter on related topics, which helps her stay in touch with potential clients and internally connected to her dream. Staying in touch through calm, routine practices that nurture your dream and yourself is an invaluable practice. 
  • Call a Master Gardener. In the fall we hired someone to build new garden beds and they are more beautiful and substantial than we could have ever built ourselves—they keep us dreaming of everything we’ll plant this spring. Even more inspiring: a novel-writing friend who hired a writing coach and has made more progress in the past two months than in the past few years! It’s always good to seek out extra help when you need it.
  • Respect the seasons. Everything has a cycle, including our energy and inspiration. We must trust when it’s time to nurture what’s in front of us, and we must pay attention to when it’s time to pull out our old ways of doing things and make room for something new. Whether a word over your bathroom sink, a picture over your desk, or your tools and supplies—can you keep things out in front of you to remind you, inspire you, and help you believe your dream into existence? Because it’s still inside you, quietly waiting for the right season to come forward.
  • Have a garden day. In early April, my husband and I will have a garden-full of seedlings, and— no matter what else is going on in our lives— those seedlings will need to go in the ground NOW! So we’ll spend an entire day pulling up weeds, prepping the soil, and planting. And that one solid gardening day will set us up for a summer of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and zucchinis. Can you carve out a full day or even a few hours to make some headway on your endeavor? You may be surprised just how well that solid block of time sets you up for what’s to come.

Sending magical fava beans your way,
Sarah

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