I’ve been thinking a lot about pots lately. I recently started my seedlings for this summer’s garden (yes, I know it’s terribly late, even for zone 5 in Maine) and after just a couple of days, the mixed salad greens have sprouted. I love this particular mix, by Pinetree Garden Seeds right here in Maine, for its variety of flavors and colors. As I looked at the tiny seedlings this morning, some of which will have to be thinned out, I thought, “There are this summer’s bountiful fresh salads, right there in that tray.” I was projecting them in to their future, though right now they are the tiniest of sprouts.
This weekend I’ll be working on the raised beds, getting them ready to accept the seedlings that are only now emerging in my trays and for the seeds that are sown directly in to the soil. For us, in this climate, planting time happens in the very last days of May or the first days of June. Our growing season – at least without the aid of greenhouses and other warming equipment – is short and we have to make the most of it. By September, and certainly by October, we’re harvesting the last of things save for hardy kales and the like, and winter squashes and pumpkins.
People who know me well know that I can find life analogies in almost everything, so here we go…
Right now these little divided pots my seedlings are being born in to are fine for them. In fact, I would go as far as to say they are right for them. They are providing a small space where the plants are watched over, nurtured, and not overrun by nature in a larger environment. Some seeds don’t require this small space at the outset and can be planted in the bigger expanse of the garden or raised bed right away. Seeds are all different, but one thing is sure: very few seeds are meant to grow in a confined space forever. My little salad greens will never become robust, zesty, hardy, ready-to-bolt-if-not-picked-in-time food producers if left in those little pots. And – you saw it coming – it’s the same for us, and I think we know it. We know when we are becoming metaphorically pot bound, when we can’t expand, when we can’t grow. We know when we can’t breathe, when we’re thirsty, when the nutrients are scarce, both literally and figuratively. It’s the way we’re made. What to do when our pots are too small? The garden continues to provide guidance.
These little salad sprouts are going to need thinning. Of all the gardening tasks there are, this is the most painful for me. I just hate thinning plants. Hate it. I know it has to be done so that the remaining plants are hale and hearty, with plenty of space to grow, growth being the objective, after all, but I can not completely shake the guilt of killing off the sacrificial plants. It can not be too long delayed, lest the roots be intertwined and you damage the primary plants when you pull the others. It is always harder to thin later. Best to do it as soon as it’s required.
As it turns out, I hate thinning my life too, or at least, I used to. As with thinning my seedlings, I’m starting to take comfort in the wisdom of it and know that it’s the only path for growth. What I say “no” to is becoming as important as what I say “yes” to these days. Some thinning is quick and painless. For example, this morning I uninstalled Twitter from my phone. I still have my @ParrisHouseWool Twitter account, but I don’t have to have the app on my phone. I can visit it intentionally and with a purpose when I want to share something (for example, this blog post) and eliminate it as a distraction on my phone. In a similar way, I can set my phone aside or in another room when I want an undisturbed block of time to write or do making work. I can tell people – again – that email is the very best, by a large margin, way to reach me and stick to that as my preferred mode of communication. Other things are less easily plucked and have to instead be moved through and out of the time pipeline. Commitments made in “yes” mode have to be honored, but not renewed if they are not consistent with your life’s primary goals. Once out of your time pipeline they have to become “no”s. When “yes” feels like an obligation or a “should” but is not coming from a deep place of purpose in your life, say “no” and do not second guess it. Say “no” and move forward with your remaining “yes” activities. If you have a task or obligation that for some reason you can not eliminate, find help with it, paid or unpaid as the case may be, but exhaust all other options to weed it out before you do.
Still feeling pot bound after a good round of saying “no” and thinning the field? Maybe you need a bigger pot. I’m not talking about buying a four thousand square foot house. I’m talking about living your life in a way that expands it. Do not be afraid to plant yourself in a bigger environment if the one you’re in feels restrictive or is not providing for your needs or dreams, and do not be afraid to be afraid. I had to learn this the hard way and have still not completely mastered it. Three examples from my own life come vividly to mind. The first is when I decided to take my work in person to Josh and Brent of Beekman 1802 to ask if I might become part of their artisan collective. The second was when I was invited to teach at the Squam Art Workshops among a field of teachers I regarded as having much stronger credentials than mine. The third was just recently, when I went out to Down East Books to meet my editor for the book I am currently writing. In all of these cases I saw opportunities to plant myself in a bigger pot, and in all cases I was so nervous I was physically ill: heart palpitations, nausea, GI upset I’ll leave to your imagination, feeling faint, sleeplessness the night before, all of it. Train wreck status, really. I knew I was nervous and afraid, even if I couldn’t pinpoint why (well, probably lots of past conditioning, but this is not the space for psychoanalysis), but I was hell bent on doing these things anyway. I have found that the level of reward of doing something is almost always proportional to the level of blowing through the self imposed limitations, in this case, fear, required to get it done. Related to this is that you don’t have to know up front every detail of how you’ll get whatever it is done. You just have to start, have a general plan, and then do the steps as they present themselves. Get in to that bigger pot or garden bed so you can thrive, even though that move is going to be uncomfortable and even though you can not – will never be able to – completely predict the outcome.
Your flower pot can almost always be bigger. I know very little about ceramics, but I can see by watching my husband make pottery that sometimes a pot comes out small even if there’s plenty of clay on the wheel to make it bigger. Sometimes this is because the potter didn’t draw it up and thin it out to its optimal size, leaving it somewhat stunted and leaden in its finished form. The clay was there; it just wasn’t optimized. But this a post based on gardening analogies, not pottery making analogies, so we’ll leave that there.
In the time it’s taken me to write this post, the pickling cucumber plants in my trays have also emerged just a little more from beneath the potting soil. Their insistent progress even in the span of an hour or so inspires me, and it will be with great expectation that I plant them in the bigger space that they both need and deserve in just a few week’s time. Today’s brave emergence is tomorrow’s harvest, for plants and for us.
In both a literal and metaphorical sense, what are you growing this year, and how much space are you going to need?
Happy gardening and happy hooking. – Beth