April 26, 2009
Urban Garden, Part 2 – The Sill and the Escape

Last summer, I purchased a thriving, flowering plant every time I rented a car to leave the city on a photo shoot or on a trip. I created a little garden on my fire escape, framed perfectly by the window when viewed from the inside. This year, I planted various seeds both for the fire escape and the kitchen windowsill.

What I am learning, is that I don’t really know much of anything about gardening. I love plants – I am completely soothed by their energy – their un-perceivable yet incessant growth. It is a magical mystery to me how it is that they exist. I say I “plant seeds,” as if I have done something other than put pellets into dirt and add water. And then life springs forth without me having to do anything else!

Some of the seedlings get a fungus (or so my online research tells me), and wilt over and die. Some of them thrive. The bulbous seed of my grandfather’s garlic grows into long stems, and spreads like a wispy patch of grass. A plant I trimmed back from last fall begins new, green growth.

I have no idea what I’m doing! I put herbs on the sill – some I bought, some I sprouted from seeds my mother gave me. The mint, I bought as cut mint, put it in water until it took root, and then stuck it in a coffee can full of soil. Some things are hardy – like mint and garlic – no green thumb required. Some things I clearly don’t know how to take care of, and I carefully watch each day to gauge whether they are thirsty, too moist, or getting enough light. I don’t know how, but I start to be able to gauge a plant’s happiness.

It’s as if I can reach the very essence of life – the only perceivable commonality between myself and a plant. And, it’s not something I know how to explain in English, but a direct communication between the plant’s vibration and mine.

Still, there are imperfections in this – as the plant’s caregiver, when I misinterpret, the plant shows symptoms of discomfort or even partially or completely dies. It is not like it would be, if the plant’s roots were nestled in the earth itself, where they could reach for all the nutrients and moisture they need. These plants rely on me to be the rain, to supply the positioning to the light. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I try to learn from the plants, and for the most part, I eventually do so successfully.

What I am ultimately doing, is opening myself to learn directly from nature, from life that – by our definitions – exists without “consciousness.” On the level of the essence of life, my own conscious thoughts are, frankly, irrelevant. Concepts I form in my head about what a plant should need fall apart until they are just letters, making an invisible alphabet soup in the soil – not harming the plant, but not necessary nourishing it either – just falling pointlessly out of my mind, sinking in, and disappearing into the earth’s infinite wisdom.

The plants know exactly what they need. I can read advice from other gardeners, trying to understand the scientific conditions necessary for thriving growth, but if I am honest with myself, and humble enough to admit it, it is a great deal simpler just to ask the plants themselves.

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