Writing Lessons from the Garden

Our plot at the community garden is beginning to produce. I’m enjoying lettuce, spinach, and radishes. Blooms are about to come on our bush beans. Onions are growing. I see the beginnings of blossoms on our tomato and pepper plants. I love this 4 x 12 foot raised bed. I love working up the soil in the spring and sewing the first seeds. It thrills me to see the first hint of green—always the radishes, of course—poking through the earth. I love the watering and the tending as I wait to pick the first green beans, the first bell pepper, the first tomato. I love the fall planting and the last of the harvest. Even though there’s a hint of sadness, I even love putting the garden down for the winter.

My parents were expert gardeners. They had a large plot behind our house in town and a couple of others out in the country on our farm. They grew enough potatoes to last us through winter and enough of everything else to freeze or can. I remember my father doing battle with the racoons that came to feed on our sweet corn. He ran an extension cord from our house to a stepladder in the sweet corn patch from which he hung a heat lamp, hoping the light would deter the critters.

Sometimes at our community garden people come and pick whatever they want from the plots. Despite the warning signs—“If you didn’t plant it, don’t pick it.”—the intruders come and walk away with other people’s produce. Some of the gardeners have begun posting signs that warn intruders they’re on camera in hopes of deterring them. Cathy and I know every planting is a gamble. We know we can’t prevent the vagaries of weather, disease, and theft. We plant the seed with faith. We take the losses with the gains.

So it is with our writing. Each new piece we attempt begins with a leap of faith. We make a mark on a page or a screen, and we work to see what might grow. Sometimes the product satisfies us, and sometimes it doesn’t. We’re disappointed when what we imagined doesn’t come to fruition. What’s to be done when we realize the piece just doesn’t work? Here are a few suggestions:


  1. We can let go of any preconceived notions of what we intended the piece to be and instead let it show us the direction it wants to go. Sometimes a volunteer tomato plant comes up in a spot you couldn’t have expected.


  1. We can prune and reshape. A radish won’t grow unless you thin the seedlings.


  1. We can begin again. After we planted our cool weather crops this year, park workers topped off our plot with soil, essentially burying our seeds. I replanted the lettuce which wasn’t able to come up from the depths. I kept what radishes were healthy and sowed more seed where needed. The spinach was fine. The lesson for writers? Keep what works and take another shot at anything that doesn’t.


  1. We can turn our attention to another project while we let the other one sleep in the subconscious of our brains. When the cool weather crops are done, I’ll turn my attention to the tomatoes and okra and peppers and beans, knowing, come autumn, I’ll again sow the lettuce and the spinach and the radishes and probably some turnips as well. Everything has its season, both in the garden and in our writing rooms.


The fact is, when it comes to writing, we can only try. If it matters enough to us—if it gives us enough joy, if it shapes us in ways we didn’t even know we needed, if it expresses something we need to express or posits something we need to explore—we’ll keep trying, and in the trying we’ll have our dry seasons but we’ll also have our glorious harvests. Keep the faith. Keep going.



  1. Robert on June 2, 2024 at 12:06 pm

    Years ago my family would transport truckloads of produce from the garden to local soup kitchens…the faces of staff and community recipients served as soil enrichment for the following season. One group of recipients was an order of nuns from Wilmington Delaware who were establishing a new home in Tyringham Mass. in Western Mass…Mont Deux Coeur monastery stands on the side of a mountain and feels like a home to me…gardening builds communities and lifelong friends!

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