I need to rake a 10 by 2 foot bed. Then I have to pull the dandelions and thistle. Then I have deadhead and prune the flowers, plants, and trees that we want to keep. Then I have to spread mulch.
I automatically associate this sort of to-do list format with busywork, which tends to cause twinges of resistance in my stomach. This format suggests that a task’s purpose is to get you to the next task. Step 1 exists in order to reach step 2. However, I know from my experience working at Space and Thyme that this never has to be true for gardening.
I do not weed because then I can lay down mulch. I weed because plants need me. I need to check up on them and protect them from intruders siphoning off their nutrients, and when I am successful, the plants thrive, their flowers bloom, and their fruits ripen. Weeding does not only lead to planting and mulching, but is also evidence of the effort a gardener puts into making their garden beautiful and bountiful. These steps seem small by themselves, but they are the means by which we work with and connect to systems and forces that are much larger than us.
Recently my bosses, Hanna and Miriam, spoke to an old employer and mentor of theirs named Brook Levan about his experiences and convictions regarding agriculture. Everything Brook says is fascinating, and if you are at all interested about the perspective of a caring and successful farmer, you should stay tuned for more about this interview. At the very beginning of this interview, Brook emphasizes the necessity of being aware of the “cosmos.” He stresses how farmers have to understand how all of their work contributes to the nutritional and flavor value of their food. Farmers must grasp how their efforts fit into a larger system of healthy soil, plants, animals, and people. I am a nerd when it comes to literature and words, so I know that “cosmos” is an Ancient Greek word that means order. Ancient mathematicians used the term to convey the idea that everything in the universe interacts with each other, and that the universe itself is a single elaborate entity. This term sticks out to me because it reminds me of the pain that comes from thinking too small too much of the time.
Shown here is the cosmos bipinnatus flower, an icon that represents Space Thyme.
Cosmos refers to an order that is inconceivably massive, so it makes sense that the apparent smallness of raking, weeding, pruning, and mulching causes me discomfort and frustration. The to-do list order that I make in my head does not connect to anything greater. However, Hanna occasionally reminds me that this is not true with her catchphrase, “Space and Thyme is forever!” The name itself indicates how much we want to emphasize that our work is not small and monotonous, but instead connects us to a larger purpose – to participate in the work of natural forces. I just have to remember the cosmos. Then I better sense the connection between weeding and the prosperity of fruits and flowers. I better understand how healthier soil benefits so much other life, and I realize that none of what I do is busywork. These thoughts make me want to garden, but perhaps not everyone feels the same way. What would make you want to garden? What thoughts and ideas would help this work seem more meaningful to you? After all, it is important work.