I’m continuing to follow, read and record from God the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us by L.L. Barkat. For me, it’s week 2: “Rules – The Way,” and I’ve been reading about spiritual practice, considering who’s really in control of my life, and how a pair of cardinals watching over a baby can suggest a lesson about learning to fly.
And there’s this chapter exercise about writing your life as a garden.
The gardens we have at home were originally planned by my wife with a landscape designer; you have to do something when the builder scrapes off the top six feet of dirt – including all the topsoil – and anything green. It was literally a clean slate – a clean clay slate. Missouri clay. We had it analyzed – zero percent organic matter.
Over the years, we’ve added a rather elaborate redwood fence, then replaced it with something similar in plastic when the redwood decided to rot. We built gardens around the perimeter of the house itself and along most of the fence.
As my wife’s knees steadily weakened, the garden fell more and more in my direction. And I’ve gone through phases. The rose phase lasted for several years; at one point we had more than 50 rose bushes. Then rose rosette disease struck and only a handful survived. The perennial phase started big and then slowed. But it never stopped – I still pick up occasional plants each spring at a nearby nursery. The annual phase started about three years ago, when we bought a bunch of zinnias and others to plant under trees, in borders and any place I can find to plant too many purchased plants. There’s also a small bed for tomatoes.
The one consistent planting practice I’ve had is bulbs. I plant a lot of bulbs each year. Lots. And I know exactly why – the Dutch Gardens catalog knows when it’s in the hands of an adult with big eyes – the proverbial kid in the candy store. All kinds of tulips. Irises. Daffodils. Hyacinths. I order by what looks appealing, with only vague thoughts in my head about where they will all go.
When the shipment arrives, usually sometime in mid-October, I’ve forgotten why I ordered so many. I can’t believe how many bulbs are in the box. But I dutifully get out the bulb tool and bulb fertilizer, and away I go. I always end up with aching hands and back and at least two skinned knuckles. It’s totally predictable.
The garden’s structure is provided by river birches, maple trees, magnolia trees, hollies, a viburnum that was only supposed to grow to six feet, not 12, hydrangeas, a dogwood and a crabapple. The front of the house also includes boxwood.
So, if my life is a garden, if my life is this garden, what does it say about me?
I love the beauty of living things, and I’m willing to work to produce them (usually). And the work can be hard and dirty – but that’s what it takes to grow what matters.
It takes a long time to grow a garden, particularly when the soil starts off with zero organic content and you have to add lots of stuff. And you have to keep adding lots of good stuff.
Nothing ever goes exactly to plan. Disease happens. Lack of rain requires watering. Too much rain is a problem, too. (I remember the late spring of 1993, trying to plant two rosebushes and it was as if the rain would never stop; that was the year of the great flood.) And then there are weeds; weak trees (like Bradford pears) that decide to fall down all by themselves; and seedlings spread from the maples (millions of seedlings spread from the maples; millions and millions).
I haven’t even mentioned the grass.
It looks orderly, but the order has little to do with me. In the spring and early summer, it can look spectacular and bring people walking by on the sidewalk to a stop. But there are always things to fix, things to do, things that die and have to be discarded, new things to try.
It does sound a lot like my life.
Contemplation by Laura Boggess.