Something magical happens during that springtime ritual of turning over a spade of dirt in the garden. Garden angels seem to appear from wherever they have been hiding all winter.

While digging in the garden last weekend, I had somewhat of an epiphany due, I believe, to their visitation.

As a lifelong gardener, I have always found deep pleasure and satisfaction in getting dirt under my fingernails, putting seeds in a little line and seeing them sprout next to neatly labeled signs or seed envelopes, and ultimately enjoying the fruits of homegrown produce.

Last week, my granddaughter Serenity, now almost 6, and I played with mixing soil in a big container, set out Gerber Daisies, which seem to bloom forever, and decided where the tomatoes would go. She helped me choose how my colorful new tomato cages — bright purple, yellow, orange, and red from Tom’s Thumb — would be artistically arranged.

I enjoy introducing her each spring to the joys of gardening as part of the cycle and rhythm of life.

So while digging and weeding and planting, several metaphysical principles came to me that I wish to share.

They may be old news to veteran gardeners and those earthy spirits out there, but please let me tell them from my perspective.

These are lessons for life that can be learned from a garden again and again.

Be thankful for garden angels

I consider anyone with enough interest and skill in gardening who takes their time to give me advice on gardening on Galveston Island one of my “garden angels.” And I have a bunch of these kindhearted, knowledgeable folks in my life.

I am particularly grateful this week for John from La Marque. He is an Italian gentleman with deep gardening knowledge.

He called a couple weeks ago, just before we had that nasty cold snap, to remind me to get in my tomatoes so I could have them in June, before things got really hot.

One of my goals is to take the Master Gardener course and be more like John. Experts in any area of life help us get through the unknown and unfamiliar.

Soil is really important

Like having a good family experience, a good education, and good health in order to live a prosperous, fulfilled life, preparing the soil in your garden is critical.

For example, John likes to grow his tomatoes in pots and has a recipe for preparing the soil that is like a fine chef’s piece de resistance.

He lays down some 12-24-12 fertilizer, mixes equal amounts of top soil, manure and garden soil and puts it on top of that, then finishes with some potting soil into which the tomato plants go.

Great drainage, rich soil and when the roots reach the fertilizer … bingo.

Using this mix, my tomatoes flourished. After Hurricane Ike, my garden was suddenly much bigger because of all the shrubs that had been scoured away, but basically it was sand.

It has taken time to make it loamy and rich. A good foundation in life can make a big difference. Thank your parents, a teacher, a friend.

Yucky stuff can be helpful in life

I found a lot of earthworms while digging last week, a good sign of healthy soil.

Crawly worms, smelly manure, compost made from stuff we would otherwise throw away, the bacteria in our gut and in the dirt, life depends on unseen and often unseemly players.

Respect all levels of reality and the oneness that brings it all together for us.

Don’t judge by outward appearances

An example is those little dollar weeds. They look innocent enough but have incredibly long root systems feeding multiple family members.

This is like seeing a person in your life that looks like not so much, maybe only a dollar.

If you dig deeper, you might find he or she has a deeply rooted connection with life and others and sprouts millions of blessings.

Don’t be too quick to judge others by their initial appearance. 

Things take time

I had about given up on planting dill in my little garden off Offatts Bayou. I figured the salt air and soil just didn’t work after a couple years of trying without success to raise some.

However, while weeding, I found a bunch of robust dill plants growing up from last year’s seeds on their own. The loamy soil didn’t happen overnight nor did the earthworms or the dill.

Patience is one of life’s greatest virtues.

Volunteers are the spice of life

Every year, I let my basil go to seed and every year, I get tons of the sweet-smelling herb throughout my garden, more than enough for my Sicilian tomato-onion-basil-olive oil-vinegar salad and other recipes.

The basil is just so generous with itself that it fills the whole garden with a wonderful aroma.

Giving to others through volunteering, either through your church, lodge or other social organization, is an amazing and rewarding way to give back to the world.

It also is something that gives back to you in countless ways.

Be a blessing and volunteer your time to serve others less fortunate than you.

I could go on about how green space improves health, which has been documented in multiple populations, both rich and poor, educated or not.

Or of the joy and benefits of raising your own fresh food. Or just about the earthy pleasure of getting dirt under your fingernails and watching things grow.

For now, though, I encourage you to think of the lessons for life your garden can teach you. Listen for the garden angels. They aren’t far away.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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