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Self-development, mental-development, is a process. It’s not an A to B process. You can’t go to point A, follow the path to point B, and leave it at that. It’s more organic than that, in fact, there are many parallels with gardening that I’ve noticed through the years.

Recently a friend commented, “My, you’re quite the gardener!” But really, I’m ‘just’ someone who’s had a go at gardening, over a few years, in a few different gardens.

My first garden, my first “I can do something in this garden” garden, had been well planted by the previous owner. It had shrubs, bushes, bulbs, bedding plants. A tree or two, and some lawn. Looking after it largely consisted of identifying what was there, and preventing them from taking over the world. I mean the garden. I also grew courgettes, and harvested rosemary for making tea.

My second garden was a grassy field. A blank canvas in which to create my own shapes, plant my own dreams. A different type of soil from that of garden 1, garden 2 was sandy, very easy draining, and in need of compost. This was a garden for creating in. First, a flower border. Then digging out two veg plots and planting them from seed. Invading strawberries from the neighbour got relocated and encouraged into their own patch of fruity abundance. A plum tree was discovered in the back corner late on, producing delicious, mango-shaped yellow fruits. And the large grassy area became a rough lawn, with up to an hour’s mowing needed every week during the summer.

My third garden was a well-kept lawn on damp, clay soil. Soil that needed a lot of digging, and a lot of compost, to make it useful for fruit, veg and flowers. Two corners of the garden had been covered with plastic sheeting with gravel on top. These were dug up and worked into useable ground. We (this was our first house together) worked the garden together. Negotiated on what would go where. Planted fruit and veg. Border plants. A couple of trees (one apple, one plum), two grape vines, and some hops. Much smaller than garden 2, garden 3 was much quicker to mow, but needed more conscious planning to make best use of the space and sunshine.

Gardening, for me, starts with surveying. What’s there? Which plants are already established? How much sunshine and water is available, in which areas? What’s the soil like?

Then, you need a vision. It sounds grand, but a vision can be as simple as “I’d like a rose bush in that corner” or as complex as the ornate and intrincately planted gardens found in stately homes. Speaking of which, such gardens are great sources of inspiration for your own garden: you can see plants, colours, interesting design, formal patterns, novel experiments, and the rest.

Then you do the work.

Actually, you may need to find out how to do the work first. I read. I read books, websites, visitor panels in gardens, labels on plants in garden centres… I read. You can watch TV programs and YouTube tutorials. You can find and talk to other gardeners. This is all research: how do I do what I want to, given what I’ve got and where I want to go?

Now you do the work.

Oh, yes, equipment. You probably need to get some equipment, unless you’ve inherited some or already acquired the necessary tools. Down at the garden centre, you find the tools you need – and some you don’t need – and you do what you can to make good decisions about how much to spend based on how often and for how long you think you’ll be using the aforementioned tools.

Or maybe that’s me. Maybe you pick up your spade, or spade proxy, and set to.

You really do do the work now.

Or you wait for a break in the weather, while bearing in mind that you can’t wait indefinitely because winter’s on its way and this work needs to be done this side of winter.

The preparation cannot be ignored. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does have to be done.

As you’re doing all of this, you’re soaking up knowledge, know-how and ideas of possibilities. You’re selecting which possibilities you want to create, which possibilities are even possible in your garden, with its own features and flaws.

It’s an iterative process. Survey – decide – prepare – do – wait – tend – review. Survey – decide…

And it’s never finished. A garden is never perfected. Each season brings something new. Each plant changes in its own way. The soil changes. The terrain changes (if you wait long enough and/or have a catastrophic event happen).

So it is with self-development too.

An organic, iterative process of looking, learning, doing. With an ever-increasingly clearer vision of the kind of self you’d like to inhabit.

Are you going to pick up the spade?

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