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The Birthright of Dust

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

All gardeners must have the same experience. The simple wonder of watching a seed become a plant keeps us coming back again and again to the ground. It's magical. It's ordinary. It's profound and it's our birthright. It calls back to a kind of baseline of our humanity where our hands participate in the formation of life. With a few simple ingredients the dry land becomes the birthplace of beauty. And it's just dirt.

In my houseplant business I don't use dirt, or dust. I use potting soil–and a very specific one at that. I carefully add perlite and grit for succulents, and orchid bark for the epiphytes. Should I add worm castings or bat guano, choose a soil base of peat moss or coconut coir? I think a lot about the "dirt". It's the foundation of what the seed or plant will become. But it's still just dirt.

When I sell a plant I sell the result, the beauty, of what that dirt produces. After all, we respond to the beauty of the plant, not to what's underneath it all. Once the plant emerges from the soil the plant becomes the subject, the dirt is really just its support. I even think a lot about how to hide the dirt. Nobody wants to see the gritty black underneath the plant (or in your fingernails). It's dirt.

It was from the dust of the ground that God made His most treasured creation. It was from the dust of the ground that God made man. He didn't speak man into existence, he formed him from the earth–from that gritty dirt under our feet. It was that same ground that Adam was instructed to tend. It is to the same ground that we will all return. We have a sacred and haunted relationship with the ground that we cannot escape. That connection is the secret that every gardener shares. It is the piece/peace that connects us to our humanity and to our creator.

"For he knows we are but dust...and that our days are few and brief, like grass, like flowers, blown by the wind..." - Psalm 103:14-16

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