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“Love and work are to people what water and sunshine are to plants.” — Jonathan Haidt

Since March, I have experienced a few bouts with melancholy. I suspect that I am not unique in experiencing these moments of sadness. In fact, I feel as if these lugubrious time periods are a normal reaction, given the amount of drastic change that is (and continues) to occur. Like others, I have found various ways of battling the blues that have mostly worked, such as exercising outside, following a meditation program, reading for pleasure, and so forth.

However, the most surprising coping mechanism — at least for me — has been container gardening.

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.” — Alfred Austin

To be certain, my husband, John, and I have tried our fair share of gardening in the past. Our reasons for attempting were well-intended; however, in the end, we lacked the commitment that a large-scale garden requires. Ultimately, the continuous ebb and flow of life demanded our attention, and gardening fell away.

Thus, based upon those experiences, my foray into container gardening has been modest. Still, nurturing my few flowering plants and vegetables has provided a positive point of focus. Walking out my kitchen and front doors each day to bear witness to the growth of these plants has cultivated within me a renewed sense of hope and purpose. The plants’ growth and ability to thrive depend upon not only my actions, but also the right ingredients.

Container plants require regular exposure to light. That said, each plant’s needs for light vary, so I had to become a keen observer in order to determine the ideal location for each plant. I quickly learned that my current selection of herbs, begonias, and mums will turn yellow, brown, and even look burned if given too much light, causing their leaves and blossoms to dwindle and die off. Therefore, placing these plants in areas that only received morning light and/or partial shade allowed them to flourish.

My vegetables, on the other hand — a modest variety of tomatoes, peppers and onions — grow spindly, turn yellow and simply don’t grow without enough sunlight. Therefore, they needed to be placed in an area that receives six or more hours of direct sunlight in order to produce.

Growing plants in containers also requires regular intervals of watering. The morning-sun/partial-shade plants typically need watered every other day during excessive heat periods, but less frequently during more moderate temperatures. In contrast, the vegetable-producing plants need daily watering. Go one day without water, and the vegetable leaves begin to wilt, droop and even fall off. However, too much water can be just as deadly, I discovered during a mid-June rainy period. During this time period, the vegetables, I determined with a bit of research, developed something called blossom rot caused by the depletion of calcium in the container’s soil from too much rain. Therefore, I had to find a way to add calcium back into the soil. Unfortunately, I also learned, the hard way, that applying too much of the calcium product can burn the leaves, nearly killing the plant.

Therefore, regular intervals of fertilizer, in the right combination and amounts, is also critical to the plant’s ability to thrive. Thankfully, I chose to start each of my plants in potting soil that already had been enriched with the correct combination/amount of fertilizer. I purchased one type for flowering plants and another type for the vegetable producing plants.

Additionally, with a bit more research, I settled on a couple of different fertilizers to use several weeks into summer, and within days of adding them, the plants seemed to double in size. In fact, this growth period taught me the importance of pruning — taking time to periodically cut back excessive growth, remove withering leaves, or pinch back fading blossoms in order to maintain the health of the plants.

One final point of interest that I also learned this summer was the size of the plant determines the size of the container — which of course, makes sense. However, any container can serve as a vessel for a plant as long as it has a hole for water drainage, so the plant doesn’t become waterlogged from too much rain or unintentional overwatering. Afterall, heavy rains and/or summer storms often occur during the humid summer months.

Therefore, these experiences have provided a poignant life lesson. A month or so ago, I came across a reference to the Bible in which the author wrote that the word thrive is often used as a translation of the Hebrew verb parach. When I searched to confirm this definition, I discovered that parach has three meanings, one of which is to bud (sprout, bloom, shoot). Therefore, like my container garden, if we want our lives to “parach,” we must fill them with the right ingredients. Much will depend on our current circumstances, life-history, age, status, perhaps gender and other life markers. Just as any container can produce a beautiful plant, there is no one-size-fits-all for individual growth and vibrancy. However, there are a few common denominators.

First, while plants will wilt, wither and wane without sunlight, each variation does have its own requisite levels when it comes to the amount of daily light needed. Likewise, our lives must be rooted in The Light, the great Creator of the pure essence of our spirit and soul. This may look different from one person’s faith systems and/or practices to another. For example, consider all the differences that are often seen among styles of worship within one church denomination, such as Baptist, much less all of the other variations/interpretations of worship and faith practices from one denomination or religion to another. Nonetheless, we all need a source for hope, faith and light.

Second, our lives must be watered regularly. There is no getting around the rainy seasons of life. Without the stormy times of life, there is no growth. If there is no growth, then there is no sense of joy, no need to celebrate or savor special moments/accomplishments. The old adage, “Into every life a bit of rain must fall,” is a maxim for a reason! Furthermore, like my vegetables experiencing blossom rot from too much rain, there are times in which we may become waterlogged by the storms of life. Those are the times in which we must develop and learn to rely on life’s proverbial drain holes in order to unload some of the sadnesses that are part of life. These so-called drain holes can take on numerous forms depending upon personal preferences/needs, such as talking to a trusted friend/family member, exercising, crafting, gardening, therapy and so forth. All can encourage movement toward some form of homeostasis

Finally, each person needs a unique combination of fertilizer and soil mixture. What enriches one life, may not be the spark that boosts another’s. What’s more, the very practice or habit(s) that lit you up at an earlier point in your life may not provide the same enhancement later on in years — or if it does, it may need modification. Furthermore, like my plants that needed pruning, there may be poor or unproductive habits that need reformed, remediated, or removed in order to further facilitate quality growth. The point is that in order to increase one’s vibrancy, one needs some source of positive inner joy, interest, or motivation that creates the spark in life.

Unlike my plants, a human life typically lives through multiple seasons. However, no matter the number of seasonal changes through which we live, life is still short. Therefore, it is worth taking time to cultivate the right conditions in order to parach. If quality does not go into your life, you can’t expect to get quality in return. In the end, when our growing season comes to a close, we will not be remembered for the container in which we lived, but by the fruits that we shared with others. May your harvest be bountiful.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.

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