Gardening has much to teach us about relationships

Last year we planted strawberries. They were off on their own, in a corner section of the garden reserved for edibles. We researched companion gardening: which plants thrive when grown together with others, and how to increase the yield of the plants. So, alongside the strawberries we planted borage. The strawberries would be sweeter. They would grow in harmonic abundance with their companion plant.

Except they didn’t. At first the strawberries thrived. But as the borage grew, it became clear pretty quickly that they had a mind of their own. The borage flourished and grew expansive. Flowers exploded as the herbs grew taller.

And slowly, but surely, the strawberries faded from view. Growing beneath the tall heights of the borage, it seemed that the strawberries were subsumed. No harvest.

Of course we tended to the corner. We harvested the borage, looking up recipes for the herb. We clipped it away, but once we saw that the attempt was futile, it became a hopeless cause. No matter our attempts, the herb fought to succeed, to outshine the fruit that it was supposed to grow alongside.

Gardening has taught me a lot about myself, but also about relationships. I never imagined that I would actually take pride in, or enjoy the labor involved in tending a garden.

It still amazes me to watch the formation and growth of the things we’ve planted since moving to this house almost four years ago. The monarch garden thrives with its abundance of milkweed and butterfly bushes.

The rose bushes that I thought I had killed in the first year have been resilient and have increased the size of their blooms.

We don’t have an expansive garden. It’s two beds that stretch down the length of our backyard, with a third bed in the back, laid horizontally.

But the amount of work that those beds require reminds me of the work that it takes to maintain a relationship.

How easy is seems to just step back, to allow a relationship to grow on its own, to step back and allow nature to take its course. If you do that to a garden, weeds take root.

Flowers that need deadheading stop blooming, harvests decrease. Gardens require balance. And so do relationships.

They require care, they require tending. Weeds, or distance, can easily sprout in a relationship that hasn’t been looked after, in a relationship that hasn’t thrived on balance.

As I prepare to celebrate six years of marriage, I easily see how quickly certain aspects of our lives and certain decisions have suffocated and eroded aspects of our marriage. But like the garden, I like to believe in the resilience of our marital bond.

A few weeks ago, we got back out to work and clear away the deadened things of spring.

As we came to our corner of strawberries, we saw, tucked beneath the dead foliage and withered herbs, an expansive network of strawberry plants. White flowers dotted the dark green and we knew what we could expect. Last week, my husband brought back a colander filled with bright red, ripe fruit. It was the sweetest I’d ever tasted.

Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at

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