Remarking Upon Garden Lessons

I find I am not the only one to find metaphysical material in the occupation of gardening, Melissa Schubert of The Scriptorium writes of her own garden observations, and the paths of thought that has inspired. “When Faces Called Flowers Float Out of the Ground” lightly harrows the topic of growing a personal garden, a subject of width and breadth that yields a lifetime of lessons and experiences. And it is funny how this is both universal and unique at the same time. I suppose there is an essay in itself in that sentence, but Ms. Schubert touches on a few things that brought my experiences to mind.

First, in growing from seed, she discovers the joy of accomplishment, of participating in the nurture of new life. There is something reaffirming and a core of celebration whenever we are able to be a part of that: new babies, new puppies, new plants. Schubert seems to be a fairly new gardener and finds some of the early lessons in the tension that is always present in the natural world. While planting something she desires, she finds that somethings undesired have the stronger presence: weeds. Gardens are the places where we learn that there is balance in creation, that much of life is about achieving and maintaining balance. The futility and travail we perceive is in how fragile that balance may be, how little we understand of it, and how much effort it takes to live properly within it. The creation was never meant to function outside the influence and care of the Creator… the imbalances remind us of that constantly.

She shows a Calvinists struggle in the rationalization of beauty for beauty’s sake:

Gardening has exposed in me a certain singularity of taste as well as an indulgence in the decorative. While I don’t think it represents any moral failing on my part as gardener, I am suspicious that in other areas of my life I behave similarly. My aesthetic is simultaneously underdeveloped and tyrannical. All too often in my life I choose the beautifying over the economic good. I indulge my tastes more often than I seek to expand or mature them.

So I am going to start a vegetable garden this fall.

But as I wrote in my articles on a cutting garden and a kitchen garden, those aspects may be harmoniously pursued. And if my own practice is any example, the individual character qualities are more expressed, and not so much mollified by such mechanisms. No matter how I plant vegetables, my garden always tends more towards the decorative. Hollyhocks, marigolds, and sometimes other flowers, found their way into the sanctum of garden space that was reserved for food production. All with good cause, of course. Maybe our ideas of virtue are not necessarily …. balanced. Perhaps it takes time and a few lessons to accept ourselves and our place in a way that celebrates our own variety of characteristics.

And as she revealed her circumstances, Ms. Schubert also shed light upon her choices, “I rent my home[…]and I garden in ground that I do not own “. I remember when I once did that same thing, the desire to grow something outweighing any practical considerations of how long I would enjoy it; and her same lessons were ones I also faced- the short tenancy meant I was only a steward . Now I know that no matter how long I live at a place, and even if I own it, my ownership is but a short period in the long march of time. Someone else will always come after me, with more or less interest in the garden that I made and gave myself to. Everything I have, I am lent. In the short term we plant short term gardens… annuals, and perhaps some vegetables, rarely shrubs or trees. In the long term we replace our immediate satisfaction with a discipline to put in something that requires our faith and imagination. If we should have sights on the future beyond which we expect to see… Well, then we plant oak trees.

…And we connect.

I garden aware that doing so connects me to this particular space, the very land I’m living on.

So, even though I do not know Melissa Schubert, and am fairly certain that we are worlds apart in many ways, I once again find that there is a sisterhood in gardening, and a deeper one in faith that makes me understand the lessons with an inner resonance.

::reposted from August 28,2008::

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