The art of being in a garden

“She loved . . . tending to her plants. She was outside any chance she got.”

I don’t know the woman described in this excerpt from an obituary I happened to read this week, but as a gardener, I recognized her as a kindred spirit.

Although gardeners are as varied as any group, I suspect we all share a love for the peaceful ambience of our little plots of ground and the refuge they become when we are in them. There is something about sinking our hands into the dirt while we listen to bird song or spy a dragonfly nearby that soothes the spirit and settles our thoughts.  And so, regardless of whether our gardens are exotic or ordinary, we simply revel in being in them.

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Bare branches of Butterfly Bush with Bee Balm and Fallopia in background.

I have learned the value of this anew after a prolonged, brutal winter that ravaged my own green space in places, leaving it bereft of several mainstays, including two nearly decade-old bushes that previously had attracted butterflies and hummingbirds.  Initially, I felt disappointment at the loss of these faithful producers. But as I’ve worked under and around them after deciding to leave them in place for now, I’ve realized that the essence of being in a garden remains even when the landscape changes.  Much as I have grieved the absence of foliage on these old faithful producers, it hasn’t diminished the quiet beauty of being in a place teeming with life.

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Remains of ‘Big Silver,’ now a shelter and food source for wildlife

Further, as I considered my losses, I was reminded of the year we had to fell “Big Silver,” a grand old beloved tree that stood at one end of the garden. When it succumbed and had to be cut down lest it fall on the house, we decided to leave parts of it in place so that it now shelters all kinds of wildlife, giving the space around it a different dimension. Just so, the frames of my dead shrubs are functioning as perches in the garden for dragonflies and birds, all seen more easily because of the bare branches.

In looking past what didn’t survive, I also have seen gains. Some Siberian Irises that were transplanted two years ago bloomed beautifully this spring, as did the Brunera and Solomon’s Seal. The Elderberry bush, which was just starting to form leaf buds in March, is now lush with foliage and buds.  Daylilies given to me by a gardener friend who was dividing hers in the summer of 2012 look like they may be destined for their best year since being relocated, and the Fallopia has accomplished its annual miracle of growing into a leafy bush from the ground up after the previous year’s stems were cut away.

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Plants in the flagstone walk

By taking the losses with acceptance and the gains with gratitude, I also am reminding myself that, like the farmers who sow the fields around me, I’m not in charge of the growth cycle, the weather, and the seasons.  I am merely a cooperator who takes her cues from the soil and surroundings by working with both and planting what grows well here. For me, that means choosing Butterfly Weed over a showy Hibiscus when browsing the perennials at the greenhouse and allowing native Violets and Spotted Touch-Me-Not to grow here and there along with offshoots of plants from the garden that have simply appeared between the spaces of the flagstone walk.

Truly, a garden is all gift and grace. Whether I’m working in the one that has been given to me or merely looking upon it, what is most important is the sense of peace it provides and its connection to a natural world that was here before I arrived. No matter how this garden looks because of a harsh winter, it is less about achieving an ideal than about being in a place that shelters spirit and life.

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6 thoughts on “The art of being in a garden

  1. What a joy-filled experience it must be for you to tend your beautiful garden. I enjoyed hearing how your gardening gifts you with many moments of gentle silence, gratitude, pleasure and peace.

  2. Beautifully written, Judy! And you’ve given me a new perspective on my poor dead plants that didn’t make it through the winter. I was going to yank them out but now I think I’ll leave them right where they are.

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