Sunday, October 17, 2010

Being Prepared

When I was training to be a teacher, we learned about three phases of instruction: planning, delivery, and reflection.  One evening early in the training, long before any of us had ever stepped in a classroom, we were asked which phase was the most important.  I chose planning, not so much because I really thought that planning would outweigh delivery in the classroom, but because I knew that planning was my strength and so hoped that planning would be the most crucial phase.  The answer, of course, was that all three of the phases were equally indispensable.

As predicted, my strength as a teacher was in being prepared.  I was organized, in fact, so organized that I frequently heard comments, ranging from OCD diagnoses (from students) to awed compliments (from other teachers), about my classroom.  But what I noticed as I became increasingly exhausted with the job is that the teachers who seemed most suited to the job were those whose strengths were in the phase of delivery.  While we planners were exhausting ourselves by spending evenings and weekends planning ahead, and while the reflectors were complicating every meeting with attempts to diagnose what went wrong with last week's lessons, the deliverers were directing their energies exactly where it made the most sense - in the classroom, within the school day.

So one of my goals, in this post-teaching life, is to find pursuits where planning, and being prepared, are rewarding, not exhausting.

In the garden, preparation rules.  Experts and books on gardening emphasize the importance of preparing the soil.  For example, I recently read The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, by Tracy DiSabato-Aust, a thorough reference book detailing all aspects of installing and maintaining a perennial garden.  A theme stressed throughout the book is how the "proper initial preparation" of garden beds will ensure healthy growth of your plants and will save time and maintenance later.  DiSabato-Aust recommends getting rid of all perennial weeds and adding four inches of organic matter to the soil before planting.

I also know how important soil preparation is from personal experience.  I've watched many would-be gardens, planted in haste at the height of the spring season, turn into overgrown weed patches.  I've battled Bermuda grass and realized how impossible it is to remove once it is growing within the roots and branches of a perennial plant that I don't want to lose.  I've watched my garden fail to thrive because I failed to add anything to the soil for a couple of seasons, mistakenly thinking that organic meant "add nothing."  I've since learned that adding organic matter before planting leads to bigger, healthier plants and that well-prepared soil, if well-mulched, continues to improve over time with the help of the soil microbes.

Yet, as I've spent the last month preparing my front yard garden, I have found myself reviewing all of the arguments for soil preparation, justifying the time and expense to myself.  Last week, as I added peat moss and compost to the soil, creating raised beds, I kept thinking about the puzzled look on the face of the woman who had rung up the bales and bags of soil amendments, asking why I was buying so much soil but no plants.  I know that soil preparation is important, and I even enjoy the process of it, but some part of me feels the impatient eyes of the deliverers upon me - let's get on to planting, because that's what matters, right?

And, yes, planting and maintenance and reflection are all important in a garden as well.  But the initial preparation of these beds can only be done once and this is what I know - that time and effort spent here, now will save me time in weeding, troubleshooting, and replacing plants in the long run.  And that may be one of the reasons that I like to garden, because in the garden, being prepared pays off.

Front yard garden ready to plant

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