Over the last several years, the one sunny garden plot in my backyard has taken on many identities: strictly vegetables, for canning and freezing; a collection of flowers meant to attract butterflies and hummingbirds; even a "five senses" garden I read about, with plants that appealed to one or more of the senses. Whatever I planted, I spent a lot of time and energy starting seeds indoors, watering, fertilizing, and weeding over and over to keep everything looking the way I thought it should.
This year, however, several indoor preoccupations prevented my even planning, much less planting the garden. Suddenly it was the edge of summer and time to do something about it. As I looked at the plot, I realized some of last year's most colorful annuals, which I had carefully restrained in clumps, had reseeded themselves. They now sprawled over the entire space and were already blooming.
Around the edges, wild mustard and clover, which I used to assiduously weed out, added welcome yellow touches to the pink, purple, and white blossoms. There were even a few salmon-colored tall blooms that I had never seen before.
The biggest surprise was the Italian parsley. For years, I had tried unsuccessfully to keep some alive over the winter, but here was last summer's one plant, knee- high and deep green. It had survived even a bad January ice storm, unprotected. I decided that clearly this was the year that natural selection would reign, filling the space available.
I wonder if the cardinal climber will pop up later in the summer. This late-blooming renegade vine from who-knows-where appeared two summers ago as a single plant. Recognizing it as an endangered species, I wintered it indoors and replanted it last summer. I assigned it a spot and gave it its own trellis. But it preferred to hitch a climb on the neighboring crowded clematis trellis, despite my repeated efforts to retrain it. If it reseeded itself, no doubt it will flaunt its scarlet where least expected.
My delight in these unlikely flowers has reminded me of what I have learned about working with student writers, age 4 to 94, for more than 30 years. Whatever their ages, I sometimes have been tempted to engineer the project more than necessary, to program them into a path I thought would achieve good results.
I have had to remind myself to be process-oriented, not product-oriented. When asking a question, I have had to learn to wait the crucial 20 additional seconds after the usual pause, because students with the best answers often need a bit more time to structure them.
Above all, I have learned that answers sometimes go into areas I never expected. Because students are bringing their own life experiences to class, they must go within to their own deep resources - to what has been seeded there - and they often bring forth flowers I never have seen.
My flourishing garden has an even broader message. It is true that we need to organize and plan some aspects of our lives, to start some projects from seed, fertilize them along the way with our ideas and energy, and weed out distractions and detractions. But we also need to live in the moment, to go along with what providence supplies, to welcome surprises and expand our vision to understand how they not only fit into but enhance our lives. In short, we need to feel the same patience with life that God must feel with us.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society