Still Growing

Organic Gardening Magazine

Organic Gardening magazine recently unearthed a personal piece by me that was originally published in their February 2008 print edition. Some confusion was created by the timing of the story’s promotion. Many people, including in-real-life friends thought it was newly written and couldn’t comprehend why it fixated on gardens that I have long since moved on from. That’s because 6 years have passed since it was published, even more still given that I would have been working on the piece in 2007!!

A few people wrote to let me know about the article or to share touching personal stories of their own that resonated with mine. Thank you. The sense of kindred-ship and connection I felt reading your emails was sorely needed and appreciated, especially in the tail end of a winter that feels as if it will never end.

On the surface a lot has changed in the six plus years since I wrote the article. My original account of this experience can be found here. In that time: I wrote and published 3 more books as well as many articles and weekly columns for various publications. I travelled quite a bit and gave several talks. I was the subject of a documentary program. I tried to make another TV show that did not come to fruition. While I still technically have a few remaining perennials in the community garden plot (this is too complicated to get into here), I have moved on from the other gardens in the article. In fact, there was a fourth for a time (a yardshare), but that is gone now too. This is the transient nature of urban gardening. We put our hearts into it always knowing that we may have to give it up at any moment. I have since moved into a house with a backyard. Like most urban Toronto yards, it is quite narrow, but it isn’t shady! I don’t own this space either, and god knows it has its problems, but it is more than I secretly desired way back when. I feel fortunate to have it.

For other reasons, the timing of this article’s resurfacing has been interesting. About a month back, I found this post by Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, that was written at the start of 2013. To appease her anxiety around a year with a superstitious number, she decided to dub 2013 The Library. She describes The Library as a pleasant place to sit, think, dream, and figure things out.

A year where it’s safe to make mistakes. A year where it’s okay to have to escape and stare out the window without someone asking you when you’re going to get back to work and fix your life.

I wish I had known about The Library, because had I been aware that a collective decision had been made to give 2013 a hallway pass, I would not have wasted so much energy feeling intensely guilty, ashamed, and anxious about the time that I spent there. 2013 was the year I turned 40. I took a year off from public speaking. I grew out my hair, which is now partially grey, because I could go through the harsh awkward short-to-long phase without anyone seeing it. I turned inward and lived a little bit hermetically. I spent a lot of time looking back, evaluating, and re-evaluating every choice I have made, and punishing myself for every word I have spoken aloud or committed to paper. There was a lot of doubt and yet also a lot of clarity. The two were often at odds with each other. I can sum it all up by saying that I was a little mess.

When I wrote the 2008 article, originally entitled, Grow Where You Are Planted it was at a time when I was still trying to figure out my place, professionally, within the gardening world. It was also the first time that I wrote something for professional publication that delved into my messy childhood and background. My story is not a bed of sunshine and roses, and I was very frightened about the possible repercussions of revealing this as a professional in a genre that seems hard set on perpetuating a pretty, packaged myth. And when the reader can’t relate to the myth? You’re either doing it wrong or you ARE wrong.

Looking back yesterday on this article that I wrote so long ago and at such a critical time has invited an interesting comparison between where I was then and where I am now. In many ways I am still trying to answer the same questions, but from a place of experience and growth. I am still making books; I have two in progress right now. However, the books I am making now are very different than the others. The process I am taking in making them is somewhat sideways, almost backwards and the subjects are completely different too. They are my personal attempt at creating something that I hope counters the way that our diverse experiences in the garden are homogenized and packaged. One of these books is one that I actually began way back in 2009. Back then, I had a complete outline and had begun moving forward to the next phase when fear and doubt overwhelmed me. I came to believe that the idea was too crazy, outright stupid and risky and I abandoned it in order to take a safer road. For quite some time it sat in the back of my mind. I couldn’t let it go, but I was too afraid to try. Last year, some of my time spent in The Library was devoted to taking notes and building up the guts to let this idea come to life. Since then I have moved forward and it is taking form. I am scared to death most of the time, but I am also excited.

I ended the original piece with the notion that we gardeners are not an easily definable, homogeneous lot and I still believe that. Our strength as people and gardeners lie in embracing and celebrating our differences, and in our willingness to make mistakes, fall down, learn from it, and forge our own paths. I still believe this, probably more now than ever.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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One thought on “Still Growing

  1. I so agree with your belief that we gardeners are not a homogeneous lot. As an example, I got so twitchy and uncomfortable when a garden instructor brought her class to my work area and what she was telling her poor students was largely irrelevant to their garden lives – the looks on some of their faces seemed to sadly scream out “It is beyond me; I will never be a good gardener”. Grrr….

    Looking forward to your future writings and books.

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