Gardens and Getting Unstuck

I’ve been reading voraciously recently about lasagna gardens. (Someone is already having fun imagining what lies at the end of winter.) And no – these aren’t gardens intended to produce Italian feasts, though I had that same thought myself. Lasagna gardening is actually a system of building great gardening soil through layering things like cardboard, compost, leaves, and grass clippings. It’s a nice thing to do this time of year when the temperatures drop and your gardens – at least where I live – go dormant. When first completed, the structure can stand a couple of feet off the ground and take on the appearance of lasagna. (Now the name is starting to make sense…)

The prompt for this garden exploration was a recent visit from the brilliant edible landscape designers from Love and Carrots. My hubby and I pride ourselves on our DIY-spirit, but we realized we’d hit an impasse when it came to our yard. We had so many ideas for how we might use the space that we just got overwhelmed and didn’t know where to begin.

Sound familiar?

I had to tease myself a bit before asking for help. After all, I have built my life’s work around helping people develop a vision for themselves and I couldn’t create one for my own garden. (Side note: If you also have trouble asking for help, you might enjoy this podcast episode.) I had lots of excuses for why we weren’t moving forward, e.g. young children who keep us busy, a husband with a broken arm. We barely keep pace with getting our dishes done, how could we tackle something new? But even as these logical defenses piled up, I knew that there was a bigger truth: We prioritize what’s important. With a deep love and value for being outdoors and a strong desire to teach our kids how to create from very little, we decided to kick our garden project back into motion.

One of a gardener’s great delights is watching a bulb planted in fall turn into a blossom come spring. This dahlia surprised me with its gorgeous oxblood color.

Here are 5 steps that are helping us to move forward; I hope they will help you do the same.

5 Tips for Getting Unstuck

  1. Know Thyself: It may sound trite, but the first step in my experience is always self-awareness. We had to start by admitting that we didn’t know what we wanted for our garden. We had so many ideas that we couldn’t see the proverbial forest through the trees. We were grasping for a shared vision to motivate us. Once we were clear on that, we could start to move forward.
  2. Ask for Help: I can’t tell you how hugely helpful it was to consult an expert. For us, it was worth the investment to have a design firm we really admired come in and advise us – especially because their values align so well with our own. While outsourcing projects can be hugely useful, oftentimes we don’t have to hire someone for help. Networks are a powerful resource. In my experience, your community is rooting for your success and happy to support you along the way. Expert tip: The clearer your request, the more likely you are to get what you need. Don’t be afraid to be specific.
  3. Gather Distinctions: Being able to note differences helps create clarity and with it momentum towards action. A poet will have many distinctions on form (villanelle! sestina! tetractys!), whereas a reader will just enjoy the sounds and flow of the poem. My husband, a skier, has a depth of knowledge about snow conditions. I have no idea what the difference is between conditions that are patchy, great powder, icy, etc. (Though after he broke his arm, I know I don’t want him skiing when there is “flat light” at the end of the day!) As we reimagine our yard, I know we will be gathering many a new distinction along the way. I’m excited to learn. 
  4. Set a Vision: I never cease to be amazed at how powerful it can be to see what’s possible. Young children are so adept at tapping into their imaginative realities that they tend to be whisking up new realities more often than taking in the real one (e.g. “no really, it IS bed time!”). As we get older, it’s not uncommon that we trade in our imaginative play for managing our reality. But the power of closing your eyes and seeing what you want – or stealing away with markers and blank paper to sketch it out – is incredibly powerful. And sparks real, possible change. I had drawn many a potential garden plan with my husband, but we always got stuck on whether what we were imagining was actually possible. Our new garden design from Love and Carrots took those dreams and translated them into an actionable vision. 
  5. Take Small Steps: We can only ever begin from where we are. One foot moves forward,then the other. Once you see where you are headed, ask yourself what steps you can take today to move you in that direction. Then move! Boldly! Even when fear is present, throw your arm around it, all cozy-like, and move! This is where we’ve been with our garden, We wouldn’t be ready to create a secret garden around our screen porch if we hadn’t first cleared the beds of ivy and remediated the screen porch of chipping lead paint. Each action prepares you for what comes next. And each action potentially shifts the direction of where you are headed. Start small and embrace the magic that unfolds!