Letting go of the garden

After years (seriously, years) of thinking I would somehow get to like gardening, I finally gave up my community garden plot.

I made the decision on one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever experienced in the garden. It was foggy yet a little warm, with a misty beginning-of-the-world feeling, birdsong stirring the stillness. Ah, I thought, this is why I keep coming here. This is why I can’t let go.

And then it occurred to me: But I only feel this way a couple of times a year. The rest of the time, even thinking about the garden makes me feel pressured, discouraged, resentful. Something that’s supposed to be a pleasure is for me a burden.

As if to support this revelation, the free compost I’d applied a few weeks earlier had turned the plot into an oxalis bed. (Lesson: Never accept free compost!!)  That merely confirmed the decision I’d just made the moment clarity dawned.

For a few days after sending in my resignation, I had pangs of regret. What if I’d torn out the flowers and grown more vegetables—maybe vegetables would have made me happier?  Couldn’t I have learned to be less of a perfectionist, mulching the weeds instead of pulling them out by the roots, accepting that pests are part of life, recognizing that nothing is ever finished?

But mostly, I’m relieved.

So what kept me hanging on for so long?

One big reason was the sheer length of time it took to get the plot in the first place. I was on that waiting list for six years! No doubt the behavioral economists have a name for this phenomenon—overvaluing something because it’s hard to get.

But I also loved the blueberries (a love tinged with frustration, as I had to fight the birds for them). I loved the “volunteers”: wild arugula, tiny wild strawberries sweeter than any strawberries I’ve ever tasted, tomatilloes, johnny jump-ups, poppies. Those volunteers were easy to like because they were hardy and came with no expectations—they were delightful surprises from nature.

I guess I’m talking about tradeoffs, and the emotions and hopes that kept me from seeing the tradeoffs clearly. I was clinging to what I thought gardening would give me—satisfaction, fun, community—and not acknowledging what I was actually getting (not much of any of those things), or the cost.

My neighborhood farmers’ market sells blueberries all summer long. I transplanted a few wild arugula seedlings to Mom’s backyard. (Thanks, Mom!) I can still visit the garden on misty mornings, free of the responsibility to make it turn out a certain way.

Worth asking: When have you held onto something because of how you thought it was going to be, rather than how it actually was?



  1. Jane says:

    Yes. Yes. I’ve done this. Right now can’t think of an example. But the realization that I really don’t like this thing and I don’t have to do this thing feels really good!!

    Also, the blueberries at the farmer’s market sounds delish!!

  2. Janet Bailey says:

    @Jane – “I don’t have to do this thing”—funny how it takes me a while to realize this! The farmers market blueberries are delicious, and also not squished like the supermarket ones.

  3. Laura says:

    I have held on in relationships by focusing on what it could be or should be rather than what it really was. I was valuing the potential too high and not even seeing how it didn’t meet my needs today.

  4. Janet Bailey says:

    @Laura – I’ve done that too, sigh. Hope for the future is a great thing, but it’s so easy to let potential blind us to reality.

  5. anna says:

    This post found me at just the exact time I needed it. I can be a bit of a hangaer-on, lacking mindfulness and needing the courage to let go. Thank you for such a peace-inspiring post.

  6. Janet Bailey says:

    @Anna – So glad this was peace-inspiring!

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