I wrote recently about the lighter side of gardening: about intentions, vision and perseverance as a metaphor for life (see Note One); tying into a wider discussion around our environments and our inclination to invest in them (Notes Two). And that seems to be the bigger picture: how we live within more or less well-executed ideas and must find ways to deal with that; hopefully creating something better from it all (Notes Three).
In that context, maintenance and problem-solving are almost as essential as vision. We might have our hopes and dreams, plans for what we wish to create; but we must also face up to areas weakened by neglect or threatened by insidious weeds. Whether we talk of opportunities and threats, the good and the bad, dreams and disasters, it’s this sense that challenges must often be overcome.
And maybe that’s where both hard work and satisfaction come in: that, through vigilance and effort, we might eradicate a problem or at least let a plant be reinvigorated by a successful season. And, in doing so, we might inspire others by showing that actions pay off and make a real difference to what’s possible in the world.
Because – in gardens as in life – this more often than not seems to be our situation these days: ideas, visions or intentions slightly lost within reality. Distracted by the countless pressures of modern life, gardens become a place for cars and low-maintenance relaxation; while many become more obvious areas of disengagement or disinterest.
If we don’t have a vision, does neglect matter? It almost inevitably makes it more difficult to cultivate that space in the future: soil is deprived of nutrients, weeds settle in, and wildlife tends to depart. And, once that becomes the norm, whole areas can fall into this feeling that appearances and actions don’t really matter; often a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Which is where I find nature to be such an interesting metaphor for life: whatever our intentions, our understanding and engagement are what shape reality. The strength of our vision must surely guide our actions, attitudes and commitment toward everyday life. Those things we tend and nurture are what grow most strongly; while those problems we chip away at and replace with better options become weaker by the day.
Really I see fewer metaphors offering greater resonance with human existence. And the idea that we live by stories we tell ourselves is fascinating, whether we talk in terms of films and fiction or more linguistically (see below); that sense that we’re naturally imaginative thinkers and motivated by compelling imagery about life.
For me, nature and particularly gardening are powerful in that way: the ideas and habits we plant and subconsciously tend; the signs of neglect or misunderstanding that take time to redress; the daily effort and vigilance required to make a lasting impact; the living resilience and optimism of nature itself; and the intrinsic reward of seeing life and beauty emerge. Surely there’s hope there, and faith for the future.
Notes and References:
“Metaphors We Live By” by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, (University of Chicago, USA), 2003 (originally 1980)
What makes a good life also spoke more generally about finding paths between the light and dark in life.