When I was nine years old, my fourth grade science teacher had us plant pumpkin seeds in half-cut waxed milk cartons. I eagerly anticipated the sprouting of the seeds and once they started to grow, I and my classmates measured our plant’s progress each day and recorded it in our scientific lab books.
Once the plants were between six and eight inches tall, the teacher concluded our lesson and sent the plants home with us. I beamed with pride. My three plants were among the tallest in the class and I couldn’t wait to show them to my parents and our next door neighbor who was an avid gardener.
Our neighbor told me that he would help me transplant my pumpkin seedlings into the ground, something I thought we would do it together. But unbeknownst to me, his plan was to transplant the plants while I was at school.
My first reaction at seeing my three pumpkin plants in the ground was one of disappointment. They looked so small —much shorter than they were before. So … when no one was looking, I pulled one of the plants up a bit to make it taller. I heard a little “snap” in the stem.
I quickly shoved it back where it was. Had I killed it? I had a terrible feeling that I had.
The next morning my fears were realized. When I saw the injured pumpkin seedling, my heart sank. The plant was on its side, wilted on the ground, dead and I knew that I was responsible. In my impatience to have it be the tallest plant, now I had no plant at all.
But that is not the end of the story. (Remember, there were two other pumpkin plants.) Together, my gardener neighbor and I mixed a really smelly concoction he called fish fertilizer with water. How could my plants like this awful stuff? We watered the two remaining plants with this pungent water.
We also surrounded them with compost. I learned that compost was made mostly of dead plants, which oddly gave me some comfort that my dead pumpkin seedling would someday help other plants too.
In a few short weeks, my two remaining pumpkin plants were huge.
The lessons for my nine year old self was twofold:
First, you cannot force growing things. You cannot make them grow by pulling on them. If you force a living thing to your will before its time, it dies.
Second: from death springs life.
I realized that the best way for pumpkins to grow was to create conditions they like, give them what they need (and it may not be what I prefer) and allow them to be.
Allow rather than force. Create optimal conditions and then trust.