close up of single pink rose

Are you a gardener?

I’m an occasional (and very irritable) gardener. Don’t get me wrong, I love nature, love plants and above all, I love a good challenge.

But the sheer cussedness of doing work that UNDOES ITSELF… well, it offends my very soul.

Er, Amy,” I hear you saying, “Didn’t you just write me last week crowing about how you moved to 10 acres in the countryside? Doesn’t 10 acres = lots of plant life = garden?*”

Yes indeed, I did, and yes it does of course, and believe me, my traitorous mind conjured up a charming little pastoral fantasy of pottering around among the vegetables, frolicking in the herbaceous border, Being One with the Earth etc etc. ad nauseum. (Emphasis on the nauseum.)

And in previous years, I might have fallen for it.

But my new best friend — my guiding question — keeps me straight:

Why not the best?

Remember, the best isn’t riches or luxury, jockeying or appearances. The best is the opposite of settling in life and all that it costs you.

Shorthand: If it drives you to drink, it’s not the best.

That’s how I can assure you that the best for me is definitely NOT gardening. So I will NOT be attempting to roll that particular boulder up that particular hill.

There’s one thing my plant misadventures have taught me about gardening, though, that applies equally to human life:

Dead-heading.

What is dead-heading, you ask? Well, it’s nature at its purest: red in tooth and pruning shears.

Allow me to illustrate it with a story:

When we bought our old house, we inherited a 5-foot-tall leggy shrub with gorgeous violet flowers. Like a neon lilac. I adored it. I never wanted to touch it, it was so pretty. And wouldn’t you know, four years later, it was 7 feet or more… and barely bloomed at all.

Booooo.

It turns out that if you want your plants to look their best — to grow thick and glossy and bloomful — you’ve gotta whack the shit out of them.

It’s paradoxical, but true: Once the bloom is off the rose, you’ve got to chop that rose off.

As Burpee the seed vendor writes about dead-heading:

You can get by without it, but your garden will give you extra “ooh”s and “ah”s if you prune, pinch and deadhead a bit. Yes, it sounds a little, assertive, right? But plants - like all of us - need boundaries.

Why yes, going all Eddie Scissorhands does seem “a little assertive.”

But they’re not wrong. When you prune, pinch and deadhead, then:

  1. The plant can no longer waste precious energy and resources on a wilting flower.
  2. The plant cries OMG! MUST REDOUBLE EFFORTS!! … and sprouts new growth, and blooms again.

Sometimes you’ve got to lop off entire branches if you want another flower.

The craziest thing are the plants you’ve got to cut back almost to the ground. Ornamental grasses, for example. They’re so big and fluffy… and come spring, you’ve got to butcher the whole lot. Shear them off, down to a nub.

Womp-womp.

But, perverse as it seems, it’s the fact of life:

It’s either the chop-and-grow… or settle-and-slowly-stagnate.

And, as gardener, the ball is firmly in your court. It’s your choice.

And it’s your choice with your life, too (you knew I’d bring it back around eventually, didn’t you??)…

To get more and better roses, you’ve got to cut off the almost-reasonably-good rose you’ve already got.

You’ve got to eliminate things that are merely “pretty okay” if you want to make room for things that are truly great.

I don’t know that anybody enjoys facing the metaphorical wilting rose and saying, “You know what, a rose in hand is NOT worth two in the bush,” and murdering it right then and there.

It’s hard to look hard at your life and admit: Well, this looks pretty good from the outside, but it’s killing me just a little every day.

Worse yet, I worked really hard to get here and now I wish I wasn’t.

It’s hard to un-settle.

To admit your fantasies, hard work, and planning were all wrong for you.

But when you do stop settling…

When you do work up the nerve to pinch, prune, and dead-head those spent blooms out of your life…

You’ll find that your energy is freed up for an explosion of new growth.

It’s amazing what you can achieve when you stop coping and start chopping.

So, yeah, I pretty much hate gardening because it’s work I’ve got to start all over again every damn week. But when I dead-head things in my life, they stay dead. So that’s awesome.

You’ve probably heard the saying, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And this is true on the topic of finishing vs never-finishing. If you wait for perfection in your work product, you will be waiting forever.

But when it comes to your life itself? Well, then…

“Good enough” strangles the best.

The “good enough” sucks energy, blocks light, and crowds out potential.

If you want new growth, you’ve got to make with the chopping.

So. Your turn:

What will YOU dead-head this year?

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PS: This is the story of how I decided on a whim to cut about a foot off my hair. By myself. With scissors.

On Christmas Eve, I was lounging in the bathtub reading a Dorothy Sayers novel (as you do) and lamenting that I had waited so late to wash my hair. My fine, long hair holds water like a sponge… and thanks to my illness, sleeping with wet hair is a real no-no. But blowdriers also trigger my symptoms. And salon appointments are like torture. Hence my procrastination and now-waist-length mop.

Wet and cold, I finally hit my limit.

Reflecting on my own damn mantra, I decided: SCREW IT! WHY NOT THE BEST??

Because this situation was definitely far, far from the best and I just kept coping with it. Why? Why does anyone keep putting up with anything? Momentum, lack thereof.

And so I washed my hair, got out of the tub, combed it out and cut it myself. With scissors. Like a 5’6” toddler. I’ll probably go to a salon sometime soon and have them fancy it up with some layers or shit… but it looks fine for now.

I texted a photo to my friend Vanessa and she replied: “You look existentially lighter.” And she’s right!

Dead-heading, my friends!

Amy with shorter hair