By Chris McGorlick
It’s little wonder to me that so many writers find success, fame or resonance when using their garden as muse or subject. Gardening is literally the act of coaxing life to flourish, so naturally it follows that it should also represent ‘fertile ground’ for euphemism and metaphor of human life. All the way from one ‘blossoming’, to ’putting down roots’ to ‘bearing the fruits of one’s labour’, through to ‘the birds and the bees’. The garden provides ample opportunity to teach us lessons about life.
I found myself pondering all this whilst pulling a row of overwintered carrots from my garden that through neglect had become overgrown with weeds, suffered intense rat damage, and had developed woody cores. “Plan better successions, set more traps, don’t get lazy in the winter” I scold myself as I pile my compost to overflowing with carrot remains.
In the collective public imagination, the compost pile represents a stinking, sloppy pile of god only knows what, that is placed as far from the house as possible, lest it overwhelm our lives with odours and pests. I think the reality is the most beautiful of all garden metaphors.
Those failed carrots aren’t alone in the compost pile. They join the rest of Autumn and Winter’s failures; the pumpkins and garlic that didn’t survive storage, the broccoli that seeded before it could be harvested, the cabbages and leeks planted too late to grow to size, the peas overwhelmed by rust in the wet. All these failures represent lessons learnt, and their remains will transform over the next year into a rich humus that will provide the food for the next attempt.
Turning compost to me feels less like a greatest hits tour of last seasons failures, and more like the very foodstuff that will ensure eventual, but inevitable, success.
So why don’t we use the compost pile as a metaphor for advancement, and learning from failure? You made a faux pas at a family gathering? Chuck it in life’s compost. Allowed life to get so busy you neglected friends? Chuck it in life’s compost.
As I’m spreading compost this spring and watching the next crops thrive, I’ll be imagining what might by coming out of my life’s compost. I’ll be imagining the spreading of wisdom.