Gardening for the soul

© photo by Louise Adey Huish
Published by Louise Adey Huish on Fri, 24 Apr 2020 09:32
Louise's blog

Whenever I spend any length of time gardening, I find myself surrounded by metaphor. So, with apologies to anyone for whom a garden is just a garden, here are some of the things that strike me:

They say that ‘weeds are just plants that are in the wrong place’, and to some extent that’s true of the human heart as well. Feelings are just feelings, and all of us experience negative and unhelpful feelings from time to time; if we don’t acknowledge and recognize them, we become strangers to ourselves, hiding our less-than-perfect selves away. We are assured that God is only too familiar with all the impulses of the human heart, and loves us anyway. However, just as I dislike it when my garden is so full of ground elder and nettles that there isn’t room for anything else to grow, so surely God must hate it when anger and selfishness take over in my internal world. Weeding being my prime activity in the garden at the moment, I begin by observing that all too often, it’s difficult to remove weeds because they are entwined with plants I actually want to keep. It takes care and attention to winkle them out, and some of them (like the tares in the parable, Mt. 13:24-30) just have to stay there for the time being.

There are weeds whose network of roots is a cat’s cradle; no matter how patiently you follow the roots and tease them out, you inevitably miss one, and it won’t take long for a tiny shoot to sprout back again. There are plants that seem to specialize in breaking off as soon as you touch them, leaving their root systems deeply hidden and untouched. And there are weeds with a single huge tap root that always seems to break before you can quite get to the bottom of it, and you know that those plants will return season after season despite your best efforts.

I find all of these quite helpful ways of thinking about sin, though if the word offends you, feel free to substitute another (you may be familiar with Francis Spufford’s wonderful coinage in Unapologetic, tHPtFTU). We can take the process further by considering those plants which it’s difficult to call weeds because truly they’re rather lovely – it’s just there are too many of them and they take up too much space. I’ve just finished weeding out a positive carpet of violets from under the neglected raspberry canes: such beautiful, delicate plants (they’re actually as tough as old boots!) but they’re smothering the new raspberry shoots which I need to bear fruit later in the season. And then there are the plants I loved when I first gave them a home in the garden; but now they’ve made themselves just a little too much at home and I’m frankly rather fed up with them.

Which brings me to another topic: what will grow in your garden? I’m sure I’m not the only person who has tried repeatedly to grow certain kinds of plants, only to find that I just don’t have the right kind of soil or the aspect they need. I may love them; but alas! they’re not for me. Yet there are others that will grow, if only I give them the nurture they need (extra compost, perhaps?); but my tendency has been to shove them in the ground and then leave them to get on with it. They haven’t. Then again, there is the odd unexpected hollyhock – a pain, those: they grow up through cracks in other people’s walls, but won’t stay in my garden for love or money. I’ve planted so many over the years in the back garden which have just thumbed their noses at me – and then last summer, to my delight, I discovered one lifting its head in the middle of a clump of something else, and smiling at me.

I am coming to learn that gardening – both horticultural and internal – involves a lot of patience, and acceptance. You can’t make things grow that don’t want to. You can’t make things grow more quickly than they do. You can’t hold back time and keep the blossom on the tree once it’s had its day. You can't make the winter pass any more quickly by willing it to be spring – and fallow time is there for a reason. New seeds won’t grow until the earth is warmed and the spring rains come; ‘to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven’ (Eccl. 3: 1). The converse is also true: last year’s pots of tulips started to grow far too early this winter, because of the unseasonable mildness – and now they are yellow of leaf, straggly and half-hearted.

At the same time, gardening requires constant attentiveness, or you will miss your moment. Mulching and pruning – adding and taking away – have to be done at the opportune time. I left it just a bit too late to prune a couple of the roses, which had already burst into exuberant leaf: now they are sorry, bare specimens with the sap rising and nowhere to go. On the other hand, there are quite a few things in the garden that should have been pruned – oh, the year before last. Now they are distinctly out of shape, unsightly and twiggy underneath, and top heavy. Jesus was a great one for spiritual pruning (cf. Jn 15:2): ‘He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes to make it bear more fruit.’

And finally, what more appropriate season of the year to acknowledge the miracle of resurrection: that joyous disbelief when a plant you’d never thought you’d see again breaks through the soil, to remind you that in God’s creation death will never have the last word (1 Cor. 16: 54-55)? Unless a seed allows itself to be broken open in the darkness of the cold earth, it cannot grow, but remains just that: a seed. But a seed that realizes the potential hidden within it, growing into the plant it was meant to be, will bring forth many seeds in its turn, and give delight.



Heather Clews
Well that’s a terrific read! I’m doing the bind weed thing most days.... I will smile as I salvage the dear Astranthia from those entwined roots!
Continuous gardening is now my therapy .... my walks a meditation..... but I’m now inspired to rethink gardening too ..... Many Thanks!

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