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How Sylvia’s Garden and the COVID-19 Quarantine Taught Me ‘Good Enough’

Learning to let go of perfection can lead to greater satisfaction in life.

I am a goal-oriented, perfectionist. “I’m Type A and it’s OK” has always been my motto. Totally annoying, I know, but it has stood me well during a 30+ year career. However, as is common with so many of us who strive for perfection as professionals, spouses and parents, it has also led to unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety. The COVID-19 quarantine and a brand, new gardening hobby taught me ‘good enough.’

I live in Manhattan, but I was lucky enough to have been able to move my family out to my mother’s house on Long Island during the quarantine. An old vegetable garden nurtured years ago by my Aunt Sylvia, my mother’s twin sister, neglected since her death at aged 80 in 2007, and totally destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, beckoned me. Sylvia’s Garden was a patch of grass, weeds, vines, and broken fences. I am a gardening neophyte, but I decided this would be my quarantine project. 

Between Zoom meetings for my work and all that family life entails, I was out in the garden. It was a massive job and I had no idea what I was doing. I spent a lot of time ‘Asking The Google’, watching DIY videos and talking to friends who did know something about gardening. Rebuilding the fence, adding new and hopefully rabbit proof fencing, weeding, tilling, digging up and chopping or sawing roots and old stumps, choosing what to plant, finding where to buy seeds, learning when and how to plant, then planting; it was an endless, backbreaking job that brought me amazing satisfaction. I joked that gardening is the perfect hobby for me because it combines nurturing and cleaning but it’s all outdoors.

I repurposed the old lichen covered posts and rails laying around the yard and rebuilt part of the fence. I installed new metal posts and wire fencing. I dug and pulled and sawed and cut for hours. I would amuse myself by pretending I was in search of the ‘mother root’, the one root I might pull up that would kill all the weeds and vines. I yanked on a root only to displace several bricks, which led to having to dig up and replace more bricks. 

Some days I would be out there as the sun was setting, telling my daughter, “I’ll be in in a few minutes to make dinner.” I would promise myself, “Five more minutes, then you’re done.” An hour later I would still be there. At the end of each gardening session my muscles were sore, and my back would be killing me, and there were still weeds and roots everywhere. I would be forced to tell myself “Okay, that’s good enough,” and put my tools away. 

A couple of weeks ago the garden was finally ready. I planted it with herbs, lettuces, peas, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, and zucchinis. Ever the perfectionist, each plant is in its own straight row. It has been a brilliant experience to watch everything grow, even the weeds and unwanted grass that spring up here and there. It is clear to me why life’s most meaningful metaphors are based on gardening.

I tend to the garden every day. The few weeds that pop up here and there give me something to do away from the stress of work and parenting. I’m a strong woman, but I happily accept that I will never beat Mother Nature. I now gain great satisfaction trying to make Sylvia’s Garden perfect, knowing full well I never will, and being proud of my garden because it’s good enough. And I can’t wait to reap what I sowed – the veggies of my labor!

Before
Work in Progress
Completed my ‘not so rabbit proof’ fencing
Good Enough Perfection

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