How to Let Go in the Garden

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Neither do gardens. Here’s why that’s something to celebrate.

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Mustard greens

Early in the growing season, I planted seeds for mustard greens. These spicy, speckled leaves are delicious sliced up and tossed into hot pasta, or braised like kale or chard. My family enjoyed many a meal from their bounty.

All of a sudden, a heat wave took my mustard plants over the edge—or, more accurately, over the top of the other plants in my lettuce and herb bed. The plants “bolted,” something greens do when the weather gets too intense for their delicate constitutions. At this point in the life of a green, it usually becomes too bitter and tough to eat.

At the same time, I was a busy bee myself. Unexpected houseguests were delightful, but took my attention out of the garden. Work obligations and other demands left me scurrying and my garden briefly ignored. 

Just as suddenly, the next time I peered over at the bed of greens, I saw a veritable meadow of tiny, delicate yellow flowers seemingly floating over the bed. It turns out that if you don’t rip out mustard green plants after they’ve bolted, they bloom.

In the two weeks since they first opened up, I’ve let them be, enjoying the flurry of pollinators the cheerful blossoms invite into the garden. 

My goal in my vegetable patch is to eat as much as possible from my own backyard. Things don’t always go according to plan, though, in the garden or in life. If I’d rigidly chased down my plan regardless of other life factors, I would have missed the lovely vista of those tall, lacy leaves and yellow petals in my garden—and I would have felt resentful and overburdened by the tasks of my daily life.

It was only by letting the wildness come out of the seeds I’d so carefully sown that I saw their beauty and benefit in a new way. It was a powerful reminder that in the garden—and in life—letting go is sometimes the best way to turn a bolt into a bloom.

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