Flowering at Forty

What sowing flower seeds has taught me about turning 40.

For the last 8 weeks, I’ve been sowing hundreds of flower seeds giving me plenty of time to ponder turning 40, which I did in February.  In years past, I primarily grew vegetables and herbs, but this year with our new property, I’m trying my hand at growing speciality cut flowers too. As I study how to grow each of these unique flowers, I can’t help but hear life lessons vibrating through my gardening space.  Perhaps you will find a nugget that resonates in your own life. So here we go, what growing flowers has taught me about turning 40 :

Listen to your needs and be gentle with yourself. You, too, are growing.

Flower seeds generally take a really long time to sprout--sometimes up to a month!  Flower seeds are also very particular. Some need soaked for days with their shells cracked (Sweet Peas), others need cool temps (snap dragons), and a few like it really hot, like a steam bath where you put them onto a 78-degree heat mat and cover them with a plastic dome (Strawflower). When the conditions are just right, they will germinate, if not you won’t pull them from their shell very easily, if at all. My first round of sowing sweet peas failed miserably. One out of 150 seeds germinated.  For a day, ok maybe a week, I doubted myself. All the fears and self-doubts—you know, that weed bed that sits low in everyone’s conscious—began to germinate. Thankfully, four decades of life’s ebb and flow cycles has matured me enough to reflect and try again. And let’s be honest, by 40 most people have grown to be pretty particular themselves too (think about all the different diets out there). While our spirit may be unfolding more deeply, our bodies do become particular because they too are changing.  For me that looks like learning to embrace my silver hair. This is not an easy thing for me but it is a daily opportunity to practice being authentic. Being authentic takes courage and a whole lot of practice. So listen and be gentle with yourself.  You, too, are growing.

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Middle age must be the flowering stage of life.

Lets use growing tomatoes as an example. First the young transplant is planted in the spring and while it may seem like its growing slowly it’s actually developing it roots. I compare this to childhood when roots in the form of morals and beliefs are developed and will help us withstand the storms of life. Roots are the foundation for all future growth. Then the plant focuses on growing a strong stem with large branches and leaves which is very similar to young adulthood, in your 20-30’s, when bodies are the strongest and minds are building mental capacities.  And by middle age, the plant finally puts on flowers...a sign of the harvest to come. During this stage of the plants life, it changes its focus to growing flowers to produce fruit. The leaves begin to look more mature, thicker and rougher, and it almost seems like they stop growing. Sometimes I feel that way too. Perhaps spending energy to flower is like spending energy to unfold ourselves in a more meaningful and relevant way, and less energy on our physical nature. When plants move through these stages in a healthy way, they will put on many flowers and will set delicious fruit. If it just keeps growing taller and putting on more and more foliage but never flowers, the soil isn't balanced and you’ll have a beautiful plant but will never get tomatoes.  And so that leaves mature adulthood to fully fruit. I don’t know about you but I admire folks in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and even 90’s who are enjoying the fruits of life. They may not be as physically strong but they are so much sweeter.

It takes passion, like the late summer sun, to transform a plant into its highest self.

Have you ever notice that it’s only in the hot summer sun that plants ripen?  Whether that is a tomato, a pumpkin or a dahlia, the heat of the sun plays a key role in ripening some of our most beautiful plants in the garden.  Passion does the same thing for us. It warms up our shell helping us break out of the mold. It gives us the courage to keep going even when we are faced with trials. It’s the fire within that transforms. Many people try careers out, or developed more focused work within their career,  but around 40 I've noticed that I'm not alone in wanting to connect with or crave more meaningful work. The work that calls for reasons other than making money and gaining prestige. Perhap that’s changing careers all together or maybe it's volunteering for organizations with missions that move you.  Either way it takes passion to fully unfold.

So why in our culture, do people tell a story of a mid-life crisis?  Yes, our bodies do change, but that’s only matter. Perhaps the changes in our bodies spark an urgency or a deeper realization of our mortality, but mentally and spiritually I think we continue to grow. A quote by Renee Wade makes me think about the stories we tell ourselves and how they affect us.

“Stories are roots. They are the below ground part of us, the part that feeds and nourishes and connects us to every part of our world. Stories are the filter and organizer of our perceptions, and how we filter and organize our perceptions determines whether our experiences become food and sustenance for our journeys or undigested molecules that clog our systems.”

Do we tell ourselves the story of life declining once we mature, or do we tell ourselves a story of a life ready to bloom and fruit? Do they feed and sustain us or do they clog our system? I believe everyone has fire within them that can transform the smallest bud into the most beautiful fruit. So let’s tell a more beautiful story, shall we?

Here’s to flowering,

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