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Growing Plants Taught Me 4 Lessons for a Satisfying Life

growing plants taught me 4 lessons for a satisfying life
Dr. Zoe Shaw, A Year of Self-Care

During the height of Covid quarantine, I, like many people, developed some new obsessions. Partly as a way to pass the time and partly as a way to distract myself from the horrors of a pandemic, I took up some very strange hobbies.

I dabbled in sourdough. But, as one can only have so many carbs, I let that starter go after a while. I remodeled a few rooms and was happy doing it until my killjoy husband put a kibosh on the spending. And I even went through an unfortunate period of time where I wanted to learn an instrument despite being, for lack of a better word, completely talentless. Luckily for all of us, that was short.

The one hobby, though, that has stood the test of time is gardening. What started with one lonely fern in my office and a few herbs on the patio has now morphed, over this past year, into something much more in-depth—something bordering insanity.

Kind of like apartment therapy decorating and kind of like that crazy old lady who lives next door who seems to have a never-ending supply of zucchini, I’m a hybrid hip/nerdy gardener. I love a good snake plant in a boho planter just as much as I feel the need to make sure the soil for my gladiolas is just moist enough (but not too moist). I even brought home a library book, My Houseplant Changed My Life, that helped me rescue a few of my plant crew from the brink of death.

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Some, like my husband, would say I have gone too far. Others, like myself, would say that all plants need a good and loving home, and ours is as good as any.

Anyway, this hobby has actually stuck around. And while I don’t think we need to do a deep dive into the psychological reasons why I might need these plants more than they need me or that my need to bring forth life from the soil might be an overarching metaphor for 2020, I do think it stands to reason that I have learned a lot from my plant friends, life lessons that quarantine Meaghan needed to survive this crazy year. And maybe, just maybe, they’re lessons we all can take with us into the future, beyond 2021 in order to live a better, healthier life, one plant lesson at a time.

Lesson 1: When You Aren’t Blooming, Move

When one of my plants isn’t thriving, I don’t blame the plant. I don’t assume it’s faulty or broken or defective. I don’t even get mad at it. I simply move it. I change its access to light or its humidity conditions. I understand that it is not the plant’s fault that it isn’t living its best life; it just needs a better environment in which to thrive.

I wish I gave myself this much grace. Because when I fail or make a mistake, my first thought is almost always to place blame squarely on my own shoulders. I don’t gently move myself to a new place where I can thrive. I don’t adjust my light, get some sunshine, and eat nourishing food. But if I take this life lesson from my plants and apply it to my own, I will. I’ll give myself grace and a new space to thrive, just like a plant.

Lesson 2: Boundaries Matter

Casually mention the word “mint” to a plant person, and they are likely to shudder and back away slowly. Why? Because mint is an invasive species, a taker not a giver, and it kills everything else in its path to survive. The only way to protect your garden and still have a mint plant is to plant it in a container with secure boundaries preventing it from spreading and choking the life out of everything in its path.

Some people are like this, too. Especially if you’re a giver, you’re bound to come across people in your life who will continually take, without giving anything in return until you are empty inside. These people can be family. They can be friends. But at the end of the day, no matter what the relation, if you allow them into your life without firm boundaries, you will suffer. However, just like with mint, strong boundaries protect your gentle soul from total takeover by invasive humans. So plant wisely, and use containers for the hard people in your life. You’ll be so happy you did.

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Lesson 3: Chase the Light

Have you ever watched a sunflower? Like, really watched one? These magical flowers follow the sun. They start their day facing east, waiting for the sun to rise, and move with the light, closing out the day facing west, where it sets. It is a magnificent feat of nature. Outside of sunflowers, though, almost all plants chase the light. They grow towards it, stretching their leaves to reach the brightness, thriving on the parts that reach the sun. This is true for humans, too.

Even when life is hard (like pandemic hard), it’s vital to our souls to chase the light. When we’re surrounded by darkness, find the light. When the world seems angry and confused and mixed up, chase the light. And, more importantly, when you see others struggling, be the light. We must find the good and purposefully move with it, becoming the good. We must let our faces feel the sun, our hearts envelop the warmth. Chasing the light is essential for plants, but it is for us humans as well. Especially when the darkness is threatening to consume us.

Lesson 4: Speak Kindly

In a fact that might just seem stranger than fiction, it has been documented that plants grow when you speak to them. Actual scientists in actual science labs have conducted experiments on this very thing, and they all agree: plants like kind words. Because humans are just houseplants with complicated emotions, it stands to reason that we are the same.

Kind words have the power to transform someone’s day. If we want to thrive in our own lives, we need to speak kindly to ourselves. And, even further, speaking kindly to others is one of the easiest ways to make the world a better place. Words matter. They carry with them light and life or darkness and destruction. The words we speak to ourselves and to others are powerful. Use them wisely and watch the world around you bloom.

If we want to thrive in our own lives, we need to speak kindly to ourselves. And, even further, speaking kindly to others is one of the easiest ways to make the world a better place.

Investing in Myself and the World, One Plant Lesson at a Time

I don’t know how long this plant obsession will last in my life. My hope is that it lasts long enough that I am one day that old lady offering zucchini to every friend and stranger she knows. If I don’t get that far, though, and I stay a young-at-heart houseplant parent who tries her best to keep her spider plant from shriveling, I will still be satisfied that plants have enhanced my life more than taken from it.

And, on a more personal level, if I end my days on this earth having lived out these plant principles to the best of my ability and worked towards giving more life than I took, I’ll feel satisfied that my 2020 life lessons helped me, on some level, be a better person and make the world a better place, one plant at a time.

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Meaghan is the most extroverted introvert you’ll ever meet. An East Coast transplant living in Texas, she spends most of her time wrangling 3 kids, her husband, and a giant dog. When she finally gets a free minute you can either find her tucked in on the couch with a good book or in the kitchen, attempting to create magical meals (and sometimes succeeding).

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