Thanksgiving Lessons from the Garden


By Jane Gates
Signal Contributing Writer

As so many of us worry about national or global issues, hotter, drier weather, skyrocketing prices, increasing traffic and so much more, our stress levels increase.

Add in pressure from holiday plans and family dynamics, and this year’s holiday season could be a lot less fun than we’d like.

Here’s where Thanksgiving can bring us relief. Shifting our focus can lift our spirits. Counting the blessings in our lives can actually overwhelm bleakness, worry and fear.


My garden has become my mentor, illustrating over and over what a miracle it is to be alive.

Gardens aren’t concerned with the small view of life. They don’t obsess about what they don’t have. They simply can’t.

My garden exists in accordance with the bigger laws of nature and is fueled by the reality that nothing is forever and everything is interdependent and always changing. We humans claim to want change but we really want everything to stay the same (except for the things we don’t like) so we can feel in control. Change is inevitable.

So, maybe lesson one from the garden is to celebrate the present and focus on what we have rather than what we don’t.

When the dry, windy heat seems to steal the life out of some plants in my garden, I can still be surprised at how resilient others can be. Any gardener knows how hard it can be to get rid of weeds.
No matter how much you pull and dig, at least a few survive to taunt you. I figure if these simple life forms can take this kind of bashing, maybe I shouldn’t give up so easily every time life throws me a challenge.

I guess this might be lesson two from my garden.

My garden will keep growing so it will always be a work in progress. It will never be perfect. (Maybe it’s the same for me, too?) But sometimes, it’s the smallest seedling that grows the strongest, the least likely plant that blooms the best and the nastiest wind gust that delivers an airborne seed-treasure to root in my soil. Another lesson: “right and wrong” is inflexible, being judgmental creates limitations, but “what works and what doesn’t” — is a form of learning that, uh, actually does work.

As if these lessons aren’t enough, I look at how we humans, unlike our gardens, are gifted with the ability to learn and choose. In Santa Clarita we have experienced extreme heat, dry, wind and areas where wildfires have blasted into town chewing into the lives, homes and gardens of so many. Yet in the wake came the gift of rain calling up brilliantly colored blankets of rare hillside wildflowers. Fire-followers they’re called.

The seeds only germinate after being licked by fire. People experienced irreplaceable losses, were comforted by new friendships, and wiser choices were made. Homes were rebuilt. New gardens were landscaped. We, like our gardens, grew anew. We learned to appreciate what we had and how to do things better.


Our gardens teach us to appreciate what we have and embrace the new. New varieties of plants continue show up both in the wild and in nurseries.

Moisture-loving plants sprout near hose bib leaks or other areas where water collects. I’ve even seen a shade loving flower unfurling proudly under the umbrella of a gnarled old native shrub in the hot summer sun. Diversity expands the power of growth. Just like in the garden, we thrive when we support each other.

I guess what I love about landscaping and gardening is that nature offers an alternative to the insatiable hunger imposed by superficial values.

It seems society has us focused on equating having bigger and better with being more worthy to live. The garden refutes this. People who have more may certainly be more comfortable, but some of the happiest human cultures on the planet have little material wealth. Instead, like the denizens of my garden, these people feel rich in heart and soul, knowing they work together with all life — plant, animal and human — to make the quality of each life better.

There is no greater sense of power, worthiness or fulfillment than living in harmony with life.

Ironically, when I look at history, I can’t help notice how much more discord invades the social order the further we get from the land. Consumerism and technology gives us unparalleled comfort, but it doesn’t fill us with joy. I think life is about balance and it isn’t about becoming either downtrodden victims or rich and famous moguls. It seems to be more about finding a reason to be alive and enjoying sharing that reason with other lives.

Year after year, my garden offers a myriad of life forms. After 20 years in Santa Clarita, I just discovered we have geckos — the Western Banded Gecko — and I saw my first brilliantly striped king snake (a gardener’s friend that eats both rattlesnakes and rodents)! Year after year I am surprised with unexpected delights. Year after year I remember there is always more to learn and appreciate in this miracle of a planet. So much reason to give thanks.

So this Thanksgiving, I remember the historical significance of the holiday: sharing the wealth of the land with others.

I take the time to give thanks for the deep sense of rightness and harmony my landscape demonstrates daily, a calmness that transcends all the anger, blame, fear, insecurity and unkindness I see happening in the world at large.

And I invite all of you to take a moment to give thanks for the life you’ve been gifted, the life that surrounds and enriches you, and the love and acceptance you have to give and receive. Each one of us, as my garden teaches, is truly a unique work of art worth giving thanks for.

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