A young girl stood by a little garden, tucked into the corner of her Uncle’s backyard, and looked at a solitary basil plant. The green stalk rose tall and straight out of the rich, dark soil but in the morning sunlight she could see a yellow tinge taking over the wide pillowy leaves. She leaned down and plucked one of the leaves, its licorice scent rising into her nose as she brought it to her eyes to observe the change of color. The garden was a few feet from the house’s old fieldstone foundation, right under the kitchen window where her Uncle was washing some fresh plucked radishes and tomatoes. From his perch at the sink he could see her crouching by her plant, confusion growing on her face, so he walked outside to see what was wrong.
“Are you all right little one? Has something happened to your basil?” He asked as he approached the garden.
She looked up at him, a subtle pout forming as she recounted her troubles, “I don’t know Uncle, my little plant has turned on me. I’ve been doing everything I was supposed to. I’ve been watering it, it has plenty of sun, and yet it looks sickly. This shouldn’t be happening at all!” She threw her hands up towards the sky as if chastising some invisible force around her.
Uncle grinned, “Now, now little one, if we spend our days wondering about what should and shouldn’t be, we’ll never see the world for how it is.” He put hands on his knees and leaned over the garden so that his face was level with hers and whispered, “Tell me, what is it that you see?” She stooped down low to get a closer look and stared at the basil, trying to gather any clues from the small, weary plant. Though she strained her gaze as best she could, the herb’s secrets remained hidden.
Tears of frustration began to cloud her eyes. She cried out, “I cannot see anything Uncle! There’s nothing to learn from this plant and it is hopeless to try! I will never be able to grow anything, whatever I do injures it more. I have doomed my poor basil to wither away in this stupid pile of dirt.” She turned away from the garden and cast her eyes to the grass at her feet, tears trickling down her chin and falling onto the dewey ground.
Uncle looked forlorn at his niece sniffling by her desperate plant. He plucked a yellowing leaf from the basil and sat on the ground next his niece. He looked down at the patch of grass where tears and dew intwined and sighed, “I’m sorry for your woe little one, I do not mean make light of your sorrow. Caring for a garden is a skill learned over years and sometimes the lessons we receive are hard felt. But this plant may not yet be done teaching you its lessons.
She ran her hand over her watery eyes to clear them as she asked, “Do you mean there is hope for my basil?”
Uncle answered solemnly, “Perhaps, but what happens depends on how well you listen to your basil.” He held up the basil leaf as she listened on.
“You see, plants can’t speak to tell us what’s wrong because they don’t have words they can use to talk in the ways we are familiar with, so instead, they use their leaves. When they are in need, be it for a type of food they are lacking or maybe something they are being given too much of, they voice their needs the only way they can, by raising a flag that they hope we will see and identify correctly, like your basil’s yellowing leaves.
“Notice how at home there are times when one of your parents says that they are fine, but somehow the other knows this is not the complete truth?” chuckled Uncle. The young girl giggled, her eyes drying as she took in her Uncle’s wisdom. “It is the subtle clues a person gives — how they are standing, what their eyebrows are doing — that reveal the true nature of their feelings.
“A plant’s language and ours is so different that it can be hard to figure out what they're saying, and as the one caring for the plant, it is our duty to listen closely. So, now that you know that your plant is trying to speak, let’s look around for clues on what it may be saying. What do you notice about the garden?”
The young girl once again looked at her garden. As she had seen before, there was plenty of sun on the plant, but now she noticed how wet the soil was. A small puddle had formed around the base of the basil and had yet to soak in, even though it had been several minutes since she had watered. It was then that she remembered the rain soaked days she had suffered through earlier in the week, when she was forced to stay inside instead of playing in the yard with her friends. Her Uncle had told her once when they were planting her basil that proper watering is essential to good gardening, and that mother nature has her own watering schedule and that we need to be aware of it and adjust ours so we don’t get in her way.
The young girl answered cautiously, “I…I think that maybe I have given my basil a bit too much water.”
Uncle smiled back at her and replied “That seems to be the best answer to me little one! Perhaps we need to let your basil rest and dry out so that it has a chance to heal itself.” The young girl nodded and agreed to hold off on the watering for a few days. Uncle continued on, “If you can learn to take the lessons from your garden, you will be amazed with what you can learn. Your plants are trying to teach you — to lean in, gaze deeply, and observe the life around you — so that you can both grow together.”
He then leaned over the basil and removed a few of the yellow leaves from the lower part of the plant, which puzzled the little girl.
“But Uncle,” she said, “doesn’t the basil need leaves to feed itself? Won’t that hurt it as it tries to get better?”
He explained, “Don’t worry, I’m not taking all of them off, just a few of the yellow leaves from the bottom. Sometimes you have to remove old leaves to make way for new healthy growth. Even though we must keep the past with us, we also have to learn to let go of the things we carry that ail us so we can flourish. Besides, we will crumble the old leaves and leave them at the base of the plant so that they may decay and continue to feed the soil, which then feeds the plant. The past feeding the future!”
The little girl smiled wide as her Uncle handed her a small pile of leaves. They each crumbled their leaves and spread them around the base of the basil. As they wiped their hands of the last bits of leaf, a stray cloud that had been blocking the sun moved West and a bright wash of sunlight shone on the garden. The young girl’s skin prickled from the warming rays and her heart rose into her chest as she silently thanked the plant for its lesson.
“Well little one,” said Uncle, “I believe that is all we can do for now, and it seems like mother nature is ready to do her part. Let’s go inside and finish preparing the food I harvested earlier and we’ll let your basil rest.”
The young girl nodded, took her Uncle’s hand in hers, and they made their way around the side of the house towards the back door. Behind them, the basil plant stood tall in the garden while the sun rose higher into the blue sky. As the sun reached its height, a tiny green leaf sprang out at the top of the basil, reaching towards the drifting white clouds, taking in all the light that it could.