If I had known the peace a garden would bring me, I would have fought to put one in many years ago. On one hand, a garden is such a simple thing, really: plants, dirt, water, repeat. On the other it’s a lot of sweat and time and tender fussing over soil and water and pests and fungus but it’s done something to my soul I didn’t anticipate. What started out as a mountain of dirt piled high for years under a rain-stained piece of plastic, is now a little sanctuary with tall, living things, a turquoise birdbath and a flowering purple Crepe Myrtle tree full of finches, several of whom hatched right out from under my eaves.
It calls to passersby to sit and contemplate—I can’t explain what it is. Maybe your eye will be drawn by the fat carpenter bee, black and fuzzy, so big he seems almost incapable of flight on those tiny wings. (And if you want to really contemplate the plight of all those dying bees in the world, watch how necessary they are to pollinating your plants, your food, to life itself. My big fat bee has single-handedly–leggedly?– pollinated 4 squashes, 2 melons, 2 cucumbers and more).
Maybe, like me, you’re fascinated by the way the sunflowers turn their heads from day to day, even hour to hour, to face the sun, a little bit like consciousness. Or the way the fronds of the pole beans reach like little blind men with their determined tendrils toward the nearest climbing surface. Out of nothing, my husband and I have built not just something, but a place, where life is evident and thriving on its simplest scale.
My dad and I sat there this past Saturday when he visited; a lifelong gardener, the son of a gardener he said, “Your garden looks happy.” Which got us to talking about how gardens seem to respond to their gardeners, as if they know they’re being cared for. And wait, don’t scoff–if we are all really made of the same atoms and molecules, it makes sense, doesn’t it? The garden and the gardener are bound and dependent upon each other.
Naturally my garden makes me think, constantly, of writing. The metaphors abound. Out of tiny seeds emerge whole, beautiful creations, but not without the work of tilling and pruning and paring back. Just like books and stories and poems. Your imagination is the gardener of your wild word-garden. You have to trust it on the one hand, and tame it on the other.
And my garden forces stillness, focus, contemplation. I often go out there just to check on one ripening melon and find myself absorbed in its green surprises. Now that my beans and squash and tomatoes are big, there are canopies under which hide the developing fruit. I intend to spend a minute, but I actually spend an hour. And you know what, an hour doing nothing feels amazingly good. I don’t mean watching TV or reading—the latter being my favorite other form of “doing nothing”—I mean letting go of the chattering mind and its exertions upon my will, my sense of needing to Get Things Done.
Sometimes it occurs to me how radical a notion is this idea of doing less, of not pushing, pressing, producing. A student of the school of over-doing, I’ve always tried to stack the plates higher and higher until I felt that one single wrong move would send all my tasks crashing to the hard earth.
Life is not without a certain amount of doing—I still have to mother and work and keep my relationships strong—but my garden, which sits perfectly outside my office, is a constant reminder of the need for rest and presence. It won’t thrive without me, and lately I’m starting to feel that I thrive more when it exists.