When my husband and I moved into our house many years ago, the backyard didn’t have any landscaping. It took us some time to budget for a garden, and we decided to start with planting a flower garden on one side of the house.
Of course, on the day we designated for the project, I thought we’d dig the plot in the morning, plant in the afternoon, and then we’d sit back and watch our garden flourish in the sunny days that followed.
(There seems to be a theme on this blog, and perhaps my life, of grand plans followed by reality checks!)
Unfortunately, the Georgia earth did not share our vision. We spent the entire first day chiseling through rock and compacted clay, sweating and swearing, with our shovels clanging in protest.
We regrouped the next day and mixed planting soil into our small border plot. We planted some colorful flowers and a two-foot camellia.
My dad loves to garden, and during one of my visits home that spring, he gave me clippings from his perennials. He wrapped them in wet paper towels and plastic wrap. My mom gave me seeds from her morning glories, and we packed the seeds and clippings in a shoe box, snug in my suitcase, for my flight back to Atlanta.
(I’m happy to report I made it through airport security without being strip-searched or arrested for plant smuggling, but you might not want to try this yourself.)
We planted the clippings and seeds, and we watered our garden and tended it over the hot Georgia summer. Over the next few years, the garden evolved, and some of the original plants blossomed as we’d hoped. The sedum, euonymus, and morning glories from my parents’ garden adapted quickly.
The camellia grew steadily and surprised us with beautiful pink blooms every January and February—before spring even started!
sedum and euonymus
After success with the first flower bed, we decided to plant a similar border on the other side of the house. While the first garden was very freeform, the second border was planned to be more structured with a line of shrubs.
We bought three azaleas, which are native to Georgia, so we thought they would thrive. However, the second garden was prone to flooding—and maybe we didn’t dig the holes deep enough, or maybe the soil was too acidic (or not acidic enough?). Either way, during the first spring to summer, we watched the azaleas fry and die.
We tried another set of azaleas the following year, and again we had the same result. The third year, we tried a new shrub type. I didn’t learn its name. I didn’t want to feel too attached.
We tended the shrubs…We watered them, but we didn’t over-water them.
We watched and waited.
They didn’t grow much, but they didn’t die…it looked like they were going to survive.
My friend commented that they were working beneath the surface.
“Have you heard the expression?” she asked, “The first year they sleep, the next year they creep, and then the next year they leap.”
Her gardening advice was on the mark, and our second garden grew from an orange mud puddle to a thriving and soothing green space. Like the first garden, we added clippings from our family’s and friends’ gardens, and we eventually learned what worked for that environment.
Nature has given us Sleep, Creep, Leap—and, if you’ll take a bit of a leap with me here (ha ha!), I believe we have the same stages in creativity too.
Sleep is the vision stage of creativity, and it comes from sleeping, dreaming, or daydreaming. It is the time when a color, idea, or story appears in your thoughts, and you begin to think, “I wonder what would happen if…”
This is the stage of researching and gathering ideas and seeds from your community. It is the stage of drawing preliminary sketches in your journal.
You buy some supplies. They gather in the corner while you stare at them, and they stare back at you saying, “There’s never a perfect time to start.”
During the Creep stage, you’ve planted your idea, and you’re ready to give it some care. You spend dedicated time nurturing your vision.
It is the stage of writing and editing, painting and layering, molding and baking. Your vision moves slower than you expect, but it is still growing.
It is also during this stage that your idea may shoot in a different direction, or maybe your original idea reaches a stopping point. The shrubs get flooded or the leaves are fried in the sun. You might need to start over in a new direction with new information.
It might not feel like it, but your vision is growing beneath the surface, giving your art foundation and strength—gathering nutrients to feed the buds above ground. You are in the flow, your vision has a quiet momentum…
In the Leap stage, your project has been nourished. The roots that grew during the Creep stage give it strength. It has survived the seasons, cold, heat, flooding—and coming into the spring, it is stronger than ever. All the work you did during the Sleep and Creep stages has allowed your vision to leap ahead. Your art is blooming wild.
Time to Reflect
As we transition from the sleepy winter into the potential of spring, I invite you to reflect on the color and light that inspires you.
Do you have an idea that is ready to grow?
What seeds are waiting to take root in your art?
What can you do to nourish your creativity?
Here’s wishing you patience and peace with the Sleep and Creep stages. May your creativity continue to leap and bloom.