Years ago I planted a row of tall grasses—Pampas and others—at the end of the largest section of my back lawn. I thought they would “look nice” there when they grew to their full height. After a couple of years, the grasses flourished at one end—tall, thick, just what I had hoped. At the other end they died, and in between the two ends they struggled to varying degrees, some of them barely surviving.
I was determined that the entire row would look like the end that flourished, so I replanted grasses at the end where the plants had struggled or died. Yes, sometimes I do things without thinking at all. Predictably, the grasses I replanted duplicated the results of the original plants—they died or barely survived.
Hmmm. This time I actually thought about the potential causes of my failure. With little more than a glance it was obvious that the plants thrived in direct proportion to the amount of sunlight they received. That lawn is surrounded by forest on three sides, and only one end of the row of grasses received more than an hour of direct sunlight. It turns out that grasses really like sunshine. Who knew?
It’s a bit embarrassing that I had to learn this lesson, because I had learned it on other occasions. Each plant has specific requirements for sun, water, acidity, drainage, temperature, proximity to other plants, and more. Asparagus, for example, simply will not grow in Georgia clay. Acuba will scorch and die in too much direct sunlight. Dandelions will grow anywhere but the tops of Himalayan peaks.
People have similar requirements for growth. Some people need a soft, tender love. Others require a more direct approach. Some need structure and strict accountability, while others thrive with no restrictions whatever.
From the example of plants, we can derive at least two important lessons: First, you don’t have to feel guilty that you have peculiar requirements for growth. Other people often communicate that we are inconvenient, or odd, or even unacceptable because our requirements for happiness and growth are different from theirs, or from the “norm,” whatever that is. You are unique. You have a singular combination of traits resulting from genetics, spiritual endowment, parenting, and life experience, so your requirements for tenderness, learning style, creativity, and more are also unique. That’s just how it is, and you don’t ever have to feel freakish or guilty for that. Moreover, your requirements will change over time.
Second, if you are a gardener and helping to plant, replant, and nourish plants, you have to be sensitive to the unique requirements of the people you nurture. You can’t treat everyone the same, because they’re not the same. Some people require a great deal more time, or sensitivity, or whatever, than others. That is not an inconvenience. It simply is.
Properly planted and cared for, each plant is a miracle. It enriches its environment, as well as all who see it and appreciate it. It enriches the world, as does each one of us.