Tuesday, August 5, 2008


This month's Organic Gardening magazine includes an article entitled "The Professor's Plot" that discusses the gardens at Clemson University. It relates the story of the school's heirloom garden and how the professor "transformed a slope of slick, worn out clay into a showcase organic garden." The last sentence of the article really struck me, relating the philosophy of the garden's caretaker. "And remember that monotonous work --weeding the garden, sorting beans -- allows the brain time to contemplate, question and be in awe."

I think the word "awe" is the most apt description for the ultimate gardening experience. Merriam Webster defines awe as "an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime." It is a feeling I get every time I allow myself to be present with nature. I often times allow my mind to wander to business, chores, and the day-to-day chaos. When my mind wanders so, I am not living in the moment or practicing what the Buddhists call "mindfulness." It really is to our advantage to practice mindfulness as much as possible. This allows us to feel the full impact of "awe." When in the garden, mindfulness allows us to be fully in touch with nature and life's wonders.

As gardeners, we have all had moments when we were profoundly awe-struck. A smell recognized from childhood, a beautific newly opened blossom, small raindrops on our eyelashes...when we notice these incidental and miraculous offerings of nature, we are practicing mindfulness. The awesome beauty of the moment touches our heart and eases our soul when we take in our surroundings with all of our senses.

The comfort of our home garden, filled with our most beloved plants can trigger awe. But sometimes, when we need to get out of a rut, a new surrounding can revive the sensation. This weekend I had a lovely visit with my sister in Narberth. Located right outside of Philadelpha, the village or Narberth is filled with sensational small gardens with riots of color. In my neighborhood in suburban / country New Hampshire, large expanses of green are dotted with flowers. Because of my sister's urban setting, the color was more visible and profound. Small gardens in front of closely spaced houses welcomed visitors. Swaths of long established roses climbed trellises and fences. As we walked sidewalks to get to the park I admired hydrangea, sunflower, and coneflower. Just like Clemson's clay slopes, the city setting is often remarkable for it's ability to harbor a garden. Where the garden seems the antithesis of the urban environment, it instead provides a perfect balance. A good urban garden helps us stay in touch with nature and reminds us to be mindful of that which is not man-made.

At the train station, gardens welcomed curious cousins who played alongside the parking lot. Nature provided us with the perfect setting to play out a long awaited reunion. I spent the weekend getting back together with family. My days were unplanned. Children's baths were unhurried. We flew by the seat of our pants. It's nice to let go once in awhile, so that we can appreciate the little things in life that bring us awe and remind us why we are here in the first place. I hope to return to my own garden today. I see that the weeds have grown and new flowers are opening. The tomatoes are turning red. August is a time of great change in my garden as rudbeckia, aster, mums, and other preludes to fall begin to rear their heads and make their statements. I am always struck by this change. Today I hope to let myself feel that change with all the awe I can muster.

No comments: