Learning From Plants

I’ve learned a lot from plants over the years.

I’ve learned really basic, simple stuff, that you’d think would be obvious, like that plants need to fed and watered. Who knew? That plants in our care need us to do these things for them?

patio garden 1

Some of my plant friends

As I’ve worked with plants and gotten to know them as complex beings, I’ve started thinking about the similarities between us humans and plants, and what plants teach us about ourselves and what it is to be human. Sometimes when I think of myself or other people, I think in terms of an analogy to plants.

For instance, one book I read talked about how some people are like spring flowers, early bloomers who give their gifts to the world at an early age. I think of Jimmy Hendrix and other musical prodigies, and the tennis-playing Williams sisters.

There are people who are remarkable and able to make contributions during their young adulthood and middle age, maybe petering out by the time they become senior citizens. Then there are people who don’t come into their own and discover what gifts they have or start sharing them until they’re in their fifties, sixties, even their seventies or eighties. These are the late bloomers, the plants that don’t bloom until the end of the summer or fall, or sometimes even early winter. The folk painter Grandma Moses is an example – she didn’t start painting until she was in her seventies!

When I get discouraged about how long it’s taken me to get to where I want o be in this life, I find it comforting to think about late bloomers and how important it is for there to be flowers that bloom at different times of the year, and equally, how important it is for there to be people whose gifts ripen into maturity at different ages.

When we look at plants and what it takes for each of them to bloom, we realize that what we see is only little bit of what the plant is and what it goes through to give us that blossom. How long has the plant been preparing for its blooming? How much growth has it had to achieve, how many nutrients stored and used, how many changes has it had to endure? All of these take time. For some plants they happen in a very short period of time, other plants take longer, and some plants take an extraordinary amount of time. There is an agave (a relative of yucca plants) that is blooming in Boston, for the first time in its life, I think about 60 years.

I feel I am finally starting to bloom, at age 52. It feels good!

September 2006

Flower Friends

Flowers and plants have always been part of my life.

When I was a young girl, living in South America, I would make garlands of flowers to wear in my hair.

When I was a bit older, I would take the local kids and introduce them to plants in the neighborhood gardens.

Iris WeaverIn my late teens, when depression became a frequent visitor in my life, flowers and plants became real sanity-savers for me.
I was living in New Haven and didn’t have a car, so I walked everywhere.

I would walk with my head down, which meant that I got a good view of the ground. I found myself one spring noticing the first crocuses, and then the daffodils and tulips and other flowers coming along. Across the street from the house where I rented a room was a magnolia tree that blossomed gloriously. I got such pleasure looking at it through the window while I sat working.

Seeing the first flowers and plants coming up gave me joy and somehow lifted me out of my pain for a while. I don’t know what spiritual chemistry plants have to do this, but I have experienced it ever since.

Some years later I was living in Salem and again dealing with deep depression. As spring came on (I was now in school and again without a car), I found where on my everyday routes the crocuses and daffodils were, later the violets and then the roses.
That’s when I realized that I’d been looking for the flowers every spring wherever I lived.

As I got to know a great many more wildflowers and wild plants (commonly known as “weeds”), as well as their cultivated relatives, I would watch for the appearance of all these friends as well.

Now I watch for their arrival in summer and fall as well, and watch the plants that keep some greenery throughout the winter.

I have found a few flowers that bloom in late winter or early spring and I especially adore their color when all else is still so bare.

This spring look down at the ground and around you to see what flowers are coming up. Watching the process of plants grow and change is a wondrous experience. Bring some fresh flowers into your home, either cut flowers or blooming plants. If those are beyond your financial means, learn to identify wild flowers which are free for the picking and just as beautiful in a vase as cultivated flowers. As a matter of fact, many of our weeds are actually plants that once were grown in gardens and escaped to become common roadside sights.

Plants have given me companionship and joy and helped me through dark times. I hope you find your own form of that connection.

February 2003

Before Weeds


Before I ever think of plants as weeds, I think of them as friends, companions. When I go into my backyard or out walking, I greet different plants that are my friends. So many plants that grow wild, or should I say “naturally” (i.e. not cultivated), that many people consider to be just weeds, I see as helpers, friends, allies. I use the term “weed” only because it’s convenient, but I think to call a plant a weed, meaning it’s worthless or useless, is an insult, inaccurate and untrue.

garden bouquet 5-25-13

Bouquet–Geum, Kale, Comfrey

When I see a plant, I always have to identify it to myself, which can get to be annoying when I’m walking and passing one plant after another. It’s sort of like a Firesign Theater sketch where the character is driving on the freeway and speaking, but behind him you hear a constant verbal litany of the signs that he’s passing on the road.

This mental plant identification is a constant, sometimes distracting, undercurrent. I do think of an occasional plant as a weed, when it is where I don’t want it or has no use that I can think of. (My boyfriend Al says to me: “What about poison ivy? Do you think it’s a weed?” And I ask myself, do I consider poison ivy a weed? What use does it have? I seem to remember something about birds eating the berries, but I’m not sure.)

Some plants I get annoyed at for being aggressive or invasive or (I’ll admit it) ugly, and I may refer to them as weeds. But even then, I don’t believe that those plants are of no use. Some of my plants I grow in the yard and some in pots on my porch. Certainly some of my favorites are the ones I’ve chosen to cultivate, even digging them up from where they grow wild. Others I’ve gotten to know grow where they grow wild and a few have come into my yard on their own to be with me. They surround my house and my life.

I get help from plants and use them for many things.
Beauty for my yard and my home, healing work, protection, flavoring food, eating them, making things with dried plants, dyeing fabrics and yarns. They are an integral part of my world.

Spring 1994

How Do You Feel?

No, really, how do you feel?

Do you know? Have you been paying attention? Do you have words to describe what you’re feeling?

man-puzzle faceChances are good that some of you can say how you’re feeling in great detail, and some of you are going “huh?”

It’s okay either way, it’s just a chance to see how much you pay attention to how you’re feeling.

Some people make decisions by how they feel, other people would never do that and make decisions only by what they think and reason out. Again, there’s nothing right or wrong with either way, it’s just how people function.

I pay a lot of attention to how I feel, sometimes so much that I can’t get out of my own way for feeling…feelings.

As you might guess, that’s also how I make many of my decisions—by how I feel.  Years ago I taught myself to feel in my gut (around the third chakra) how a “yes” or “no” feels for what I am considering. Often a “no” is a sinking feeling as of energy being pulled out when it shouldn’t be. A feeling of being drained, so that I know if I decide to do what I am thinking of, I will regret it. Sometimes it takes a while to see how my gut was right, but I do find out eventually.

When I don’t feel any disturbing energy stirring in my gut, all is quiet, then I know that answer is yes, and again I can act on it with assurance.

I have learned to be very grateful for that inner guidance, my “gut feeling”.

But following my feelings is a tricky road to walk, especially as I have spent so much time in the land of depression with its attendant anxiety and despair. When I am feeling I can’t go on, is that a clear message from my gut to stop and do nothing? Or is it my depression, anxiety, or fear nudging me to take the safe road and do nothing?

When I am feeling “awful”, any number of ways to feel including chronic emotional pain, I struggle to push myself into any sort of action, whether getting out of bed or going to work or getting on the computer. It is a real battle sometimes to know what feeling to honor to know whether I can push past the feeling into action or to just say I can’t right now and let myself be.


There is also the question between what we feel and what is actual intuition and what is just emotion. What is the difference between feeling emotion, pain, etc, and feeling intuition?

Ask yourself this question and find what your own answer is.