Rather to my surprise, I have become our family’s primary gardener. For many years, I thought gardening was my wife’s job. I did the manly things—pruning unruly branches, digging out rocks, mowing lawns, repairing equipment. She did the planning, the weeding, the dead-heading…
But her chronic leukemia leaves her short of energy. It dawned on me—sometime last summer—that if our garden was going to be maintained, I was going to have to do most of it.
And you know something? I quite enjoy it.
I get a sense of pride, of course, when azaleas explode like fireworks into multi-coloured crescendos of flame. When lavender clumps become bee magnets. When oriental lilies trumpet their fanfare of praise at the skies.
There’s a sense of power, in organizing a garden. Also a sense of humility, in knowing that nothing I can do will make a seed germinate.
But there are pleasures in the more mundane tasks, too.
A gardener friend describes weeding as “a form of meditation.” I used to hate weeding. It seemed so mindless. But I think she’s right—partly because weeding is mindless. You have to empty your mind of the Shriner’s parade of random thoughts that normally romp through, and focus only on the task before you.
The weeds themselves are as hypnotic as a Tibetan mantra. Each seedling requires your undivided attention; if your mind wanders, you’ll miss one. Like beads on a rosary, each weed leads to the next, to the next, to the next…
Hours pass. When I look back along the bed, I can see that I have accomplished something. But my mind has been focused on task, not on destination. The simple act of doing matters more than where I get to.
My mother quoted a British author who said something like, “There’s more honest prayer done on one’s knees in a garden than in all the churches of England.” I wish I could recall the quotation accurately. Perhaps someone can send me the proper wording.
Neither prayer nor weeding works when performed sporadically—only when things get out of control. Both prayer and weeding require regular practice. Ignore either of them for too long, and you don’t know where to start.
It even occurs to me, sometimes, that my past and present vocations have a lot in common.
If writing is like creating a beautiful garden, then weeding is like editing. It took me years to realize that editing doesn’t consist of rewriting someone else’s prose, but of identifying the prize blossoms in a writer’s text and pulling out everything that obscures their beauty.
I can’t say that I always enjoy gardening. Especially when wet branches drip icy drops down my neck. Gardens can also be jealous lovers. They don’t seem to understand that I may also have other commitments.
I’m still learning my spireas from my weigelias. I still have to ask whether this is an allium or an onion, when to plant dahlias, when to hill potatoes.
But I don’t resent the garden any more. We get along much better than we used to. We almost have a relationship.