Monday, September 3, 2018

Habitat for the Soul

Purple beautyberries and leaves

One of the biggest reasons I spend so much time in my garden is the hope that I find there. Whenever I feel myself losing faith, I go outside and I can find it again.

It's been like that for as long as I can remember.

As kids, my sister Kris and I created an elaborate garden in a corner of our Tallahassee backyard, at the very back. It was “fenced” by a chain of logs laid down on their sides, and in front of the logs was a rainbow of potted impatiens, at least 20, coral, pink, red, and purple, all grown from cuttings. Our garden was our sanctuary, the hub of our imaginary world.

At school, Kris and I were both huge dorks and hilariously unpopular, but in our imaginary world things were different. We had friends galore. All the trees could talk—they were feeling individuals—and we'd have long heart-to-hearts with them. We never had any disagreements.

I remember we were also close with one of Mom's hanging baskets (lol). We called her Marge. We'd drawn a sweet face on her pot, and her leaves were her hair. She was so kind. We were always chatting with Marge, looking up at her as she floated, smiling, overhead.

I gardened all through my childhood and even in college, but I was in my early thirties when I really got into it, when I started reading gardening books and spending all my money on plants. I became a very happy, stable person at that time, in my early thirties, and I realized, even then, that this change was due to gardening. I remember one day in my new backyard in Atlanta, I said to Kris, “I'll always be happy now because I've found this thing that I truly love to do. I might lose my job or get a divorce, but I'll always have this essential happiness inside myself. I won't ever be completely lost again.”

And I was right.

Gardening keeps me entertained. I'm never bored. When you're a gardener, you've always got something to look forward to, to live for. You have a reason to get up in the morning. There are roses to smell and peaches to pick. Weeds to pull. Something always needs doing. You have a purpose.

Gardening takes me out of myself. It gives me a sense of communion with the earth. As I work, I look around and notice things I might otherwise miss: earthworms and anoles, secret nests, leaves shaped like stars. . . .

The other day I was digging in a pile of compost and I uncovered a trove of tender, snow-white mushrooms, a treasure. Well, a handsome box turtle, as orange as a kumquat, noticed immediately. He came striding up, not afraid of me at all, and started taking big bites of the mushrooms. He ate every single one. I stood in the compost and watched him as the earthworms wiggled and a mockingbird sang in a nearby mulberry tree.

I'm always so excited for Saturday to come because then I'm free and I can garden all day. I like getting started early in the morning, in the dew, so I can see the sun rise, sparkling streams of light pouring through the palm fronds and between the oak leaves. Often I'll repeat a line by Gerard Manley Hopkins, out loud (because I'm always talking to myself): The world is charged with the grandeur of God. . . .

When I was a kid, my dad used to say that working in the yard was more of a religious experience, for him, than going to church. And it might be that way for me too. Gardening is a form of worship, a form of praise. Planting a seed is the strongest profession of faith I can think of.

Bird statue and sky

Red impatiens and bright green ferns

Christine Sibley sculpture surrounded by pipevine

Christine Sibley sculpture surrounded by pipevine

Bunny statue wearing a crown of zinnias