harvesting life lessons in the garden: breaking back

Last week was all about grit. Which goes hand in hand with breaking one’s back. Both are required for the success of any serious undertaking. And since bringing up a garden is not the kind of job that ever comes to an end, I’ve been reminded of this lesson just last weekend.

lesson 2/5: you gotta break your back

When you stumble upon gardening, like I did, it’s no different than stumbling upon any other life’s work. You have an interest, and a complete and utter underestimate of resources needed to make your passion bloom into an actual, successful thing. You have, however, a lot of enthusiasm, and the smallest successes fuel a constant desire to push ahead, to try something harder, bigger, more impressive. You recall all the pretty roses admired in a garden or another, and want yours just so.

And you also recall all the hours spent bent over your goddamn roses, planting, watering, killing bugs, pondering whether that leaf discolouration means something, mourning buds broken by pigeons, praying there are any flowers at all, mulching (the most generic gardening term yet!), praying branches grow, pruning branches severely, seeing the plant die sometimes, and getting a cutting to grow into a new plant other times. By this point, your back has hurt over the roses so many times, that you understand deeply, emotionally and intellectually, that any success will require some further broken back.

where fairy lights require pixie dust

When I took over this terrace some four years ago, I had a long, clever string of outdoor lights from Ikea that had lasted through a snowy winter on my previous balcony. Those lights were long enough to line the perimeter of the terrace and that was the first task ever in accomplishing the lush greenery at hand. It went fairly well, so off I went and bought another such string of lights, with which I adorned the troughs and arches constructed a year later. That did not go smoothly. And then a Christmas came when two more strings went up, in the cold and rain, purely due to determination. Later the following year I had to chop down the latest two strings due to their poor engineering. Then the Christmas after, we stretched another, better set about the terrace.

Well that also reached a point where it couldn’t be serviced in situ anymore. So with much getting up and down the ladder, inside and outside, I removed the lights once again. And chopped off the second, old, malfunctioning set from Ikea. And chopped off the tight cable ties left behind, with the sun in my eyes and bending madly at the top of the ladder to ensure I don’t cut green growth. And pulled cable ties from the troughs and the walls. And finally stretched two new sets about, up and down the ladder again, inside and outside. And replaced some bulbs, and so on…

By the end of it all, I could barely stand up straight, or step on my feet—there were muscles in both that I didn’t know existed, which screamed in agony. But as I crashed on a chair and opened a beer, everything looked neat and tidy, and my new lights sparkled in the vegetation just the right side of magical. And as I come home late from work in the months to come, and step onto the terrace in the less dark night, I know I will be grateful for my willingness to break my back last weekend, and all those times before.


I’m sure this is not the end of it, but it’s a good post on the road to having one’s garden and enjoying it. Have you broken your back repetitively in a project that brought you joy and satisfaction? Tell me on Twitter what you learned, and see you next week for my third life lesson learned gardening.

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