Inch by Inch, Row by Row: What Does it Mean to Cultivate?

Every year, as the rainy days of spring (eventually) give way to the sunnier and hotter days of summer, I am always astounded by my garden. It seems that just a few weeks ago it was pretty empty and not very exciting. But now, even at the start of summer, so much life is bursting out of it.



Our garden isn’t big – we built a few raised garden boxes in the backyard of our rental house – but there is so much that comes out of such a little space. Right now, there are peas growing tall, their vines winding up their supports; lettuces of all sorts with leaves just waiting to be made into salads; and kale starting to grow tall. Already, the space is full of all sorts of vegetables to harvest.

A garden doesn’t do all that on its own, obviously. Take the peas, for example. The pea seeds were planted with care and kept moist until they sprouted. Once they poked through the earth, we covered the garden box with a special fabric to protect the starts from birds (who happen have a sweet spot for defenseless pea starts). Once they got big enough, we uncovered them and began to lovingly guide the vines up the structure I hand-built to provide them with support as they grew tall.

Nothing will grow without the time, attention, and care that you put into it.

Of course, we all know that this isn’t exactly true. We’ve all seen an unkempt garden. Some things will grow, even if left unattended and neglected, but these are mainly of two (undesirable) sorts:

#1. Weeds. Lot’s of them. Unwanted, nasty, wild shoots and vines and deep-rooted plants. They seemingly come out of nowhere, and establish themselves with authority. Once they’ve made themselves at home, they can become frustratingly difficult to evict from the premises.

And #2. Plants that, although they might be nice and all, have gotten so out of control that they swallow up everything around them. Unlike weeds, they might have been intentionally planted there in the first place, but at a certain point they became completely overgrown and no longer have the desired effect. 

While those two sorts do grow, what doesn’t grow when you don’t give a garden love and attention? Probably those special plants you bought at the nursery, chosen specifically for their color and texture to make your landscape design feel just right. The plants that can’t survive without water or pruning or fertilizer. The ones that get attacked by bugs or birds or other pests if you don’t watch out and protect them.

The result is a big mess. You’ve got dried up, brittle, dead plants, crowded out by gargantuan weeds and overgrown plants. It isn’t pretty.

What’s the solution to this problem? You’ve got to put a lot of love, care, time, energy, devotion, and resources into that garden to get it to come out thriving and beautiful. In other words, you’ve got to cultivate a garden.

By now, I think you’ve probably caught on to the (completely and unapologetically cheesy) metaphor here. But I thought it might be fitting for my first blog for Cultivate Balance to speak to what it means to cultivate.

An unkempt garden is one thing. The weeds can be pulled, the soil turned, and a new garden put in. But an unkept human? The sound of that is pretty alarming…

We can’t just wipe away one version and start anew. Our body is the only one we’ve got for this lifetime, so we may as well take care of it.

If you want to create a thriving, beautiful version of yourself (and why wouldn’t you?!?), you need to think about what it means to cultivate that. What do you need, personally, to be bright, happy, and flourishing?

What do you need, personally, to be bright, happy, and flourishing?

To start on this process, we each need to look at which of our own “plants” are getting a little too out of control and crowding out the smaller, but no less important, parts of ourselves. We’ve got to figure out how to clear out the unwanted “weeds” to make room for what it is we really want. We’ve got to figure out how to protect ourselves from unexpected adverse conditions, pests, and more. And above all, we need to understand how to care for ourselves, so that we are nurtured in such a way that we will thrive.

So what is it that you need? A bit of weeding, a bit of watering, or a little bit of both? What kinds of habits, mindsets, perspectives, and lifestyle changes do you need to cultivate for yourself so that you can thrive? Think about one little thing you can do – starting now – to give yourself the love and attention that you deserve.

And let me know what your garden looks like afterwards :)