Learning from My Garden: Lessons for Crazy, Creative, Collaborative Projects

the harvest

For those who don't enjoy gardening metaphors, a caution and an apology. I am about to pack a season's worth into this single post (which will take some pruning).  -----

Over the summer The Bleeding Heart Art Space has taken a break. We've travelled. We've rested. We've reflected and reevaluated. We've dreamed. We've gardened.

As I reflect back on our first year of adventures and experiments, I'm also looking forward to what we will try this year. I've learned some things – many of them from my hours in the garden.

Let's Try This Garden Thing

I wasn't sure a garden would work in our yard. We've failed before with dried up, fruitless plants. This time, I got serious. In June, I moved our fence back 8 feet and built four garden boxes. I shovelled them full of fertile dirt. My wife Christie selected seeds. I planned. The kids and I planted. Then we waited.

I watered daily. I weeded every week, because by some cruel joke, weeds grow best. For a time – nothing. But eventually, the sprouts poked through. And then more, and to my excitement even more. The lettuce was first to show. Then the green beans. Tiny carrot greens, at first hard to tell from the weeds, joined the party. Green onions. Tomatoes bulging on the vine. Peas pulling themselves up the lattice. Finally, the peppers appeared. Just last night was the big harvest.

I am so proud I find myself showing friends pictures of carrots like they were my kids.

CarrotsI tried something new. It worked.

The joys of gardening are primal. The basic cycle of sowing and reaping is reassuring when you're knee deep in a massive project like The Bleeding Heart Art Space. It turns out the two projects, both attempts to grow good things, have a lot in common.

Let's start with the seeds.

The Seed is Not the Thing, But You Need the Seed

You wouldn't want to eat a carrot seed. Believe me. They are tiny, ugly little things, so small they are tricky to plant (which may explain our erratic spread of carrots). But no seed, no carrot.

At The Bleeding Heart Art Space, we've planted a lot of seeds in our early days. We continue to try a lot of things. Sometimes tiny things, giving little indication of the fruit they may, or may not produce.

Some seeds have been duds. Perhaps others have yet to sprout. A few grew into beautiful, rich gatherings and art shows. There are shoots of community popping up in a few places.

photoEarly on my carrots looked like duds. Most of my onions failed. Duds can be discouraging. But, I think, you'll always have more seeds than plants.

When people asked me how Bleeding Heart was going over the summer, I would cheerfully declare that we've gotten a lot of our failures out of the way. I mean that. We've learned so much from things that haven't worked.

The suite where I stayed during our holidays had a bookshelf, and fortuitously, that bookshelf held Poke The Box, a brief manifesto by Seth Godin on trying new things. Initiating. I read it hungrily. I believe Seth Godin would tell us to plant more seeds. And keep planting.

I'm proud of our Bleeding Heart team because we've continued to plant seeds, and here we are looking at a new season, seeds in hand, ready to plant again.

The Water and The Weeds: Day by Day the Garden Grows

Gardening is little work repeated over much time. You cannot rush it. You cannot decide you feel like gardening one day, so you're going to weed and water double to speed up the process. You go out for 10 minutes one day, five minutes another, half an hour on the weekend, and on it goes. You don't do a ton each visit, but you must visit often. A garden loves a consistent, faithful gardener.

Some days I wish I could push The Bleeding Heart Art Space forward a couple of years. I wish I could force the extra effort and reap the rewards of a beautiful, inspiring, challenging arts community and space today. But today, all I can do is plan a gathering, write an email, or perhaps this blog post.

To believe that these blog posts and events and coffee conversations string together to cultivate something of value over time – that takes faith. I pray I have it. Today I do.

The Sun: Miracles and Mystery

A garden, my friends, is a mystery.

Those weird little seeds – dropped an inch into dirt, of all things – they disappear. And you, a mad fool, water and watch and wait, praying the sun appears to work its alchemy. And it does. And then, one day, from the ground, like a newborn baby's hand reading out for contact, a bean plant bursts through the crust of earth. And it was all true. There is life! And it is mystery. And it is wonder.

And even after all your labor, you did not make this happen. You could not bring the sun. There is mystery. There is holy awe.

These early days of The Bleeding Heart are spent below the crust of earth. The seeds we plant are shifting towards light. Some poke through. We rely on the sun to meet our labours. We surrender to a Mystery. We pray for a harvest.

We pray.

The Harvest: Many Hands Make Joyful Work

Last night, our family harvested our little garden, together.

I won't lie. I did most of the work growing the garden. I weeded, I watered, I planned. I built the boxes. I shovelled the dirt. I pushed and prodded and begged the kids to help me plant the seeds. Then I weeded and watered some more.

Lucie harvests the gardenBut last night, we all harvested. I hope this was as magical for them as for me, pulling those huge, hiding carrots from the unassuming earth. I hope they felt amazed at the three bulging bags of green beans. Sometimes they laughed the way a kid laughs when a bug, thought dead, starts to wriggle with life. Not a funny laugh, but a laugh of wonder.

The little red hen, baking her bread in smarmy, solitary superiority, got something wrong. That bread, eaten alone, would not taste half so good as if eaten among friends, even if they didn't help bake it.

Sure, community gets the work done. Even a small garden is a lot of work, and I'd have been out there for three hours picking last night if it weren't for the family's help. And they did help along the way. But last night was not about getting the work done. Last night was about a shared joy at this miracle of life. Last night was community.

The Bleeding Heart Art Space needs many hands to move forward. It is a project much larger than a garden, and beyond the reach of a single gardener. But here's something I'm learning. The work is not the deepest reason we need you to join us. It's the joy. It's the love. It's the community.

Last night's harvest is the reason I'll plant again next spring. I'll remember my smiling kids yanking carrots from dirt. I'll remember my wife shucking peas on the kitchen table like some pioneer. And I will smile.

A New Season Awaits

As the tomatoes ripen on the vine, my garden's season is almost over. But a new season is about to begin for The Bleeding Heart Art Space.

We've got some new ideas (like the Arts Potluck next week), a handful of seeds ready to plant, and we've learned some things. We've also got some spaces to fill to round out our community of gardeners and make this crazy, creative, collaborative vision a reality.

Will you consider joining us this year as we plan, plant, water and wonder together and what sprouts up?

I cannot promise a huge harvest, but I guarantee the laugh of wonder from time to time, and the fellowship of those who wait on the sun.

If you'd like to get involved, let's chat. Email hello@bleedingheartspace.ca.






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