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


  1. Dear Leslie ~ Yours is my first post to read this rainy memorial day. It was a joy to read and your pictures, oh so lovely.

    I loved this quote: "The world is charged with the grandeur of God. . . ." by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I am thankful to God for His beautiful creation. Just now the old hymn 'In the Garden' came to mind. About how God walks and talks with us and tells us we are His own. Wow. That really speaks to my heart once again. Thanks for inspiring this memory.

    Yesterday or the day before, I started leafing through (again) a beautiful book called 'Sanctuary ~ Gardening For The Soul'. My humble gardens are a blessing to myself, and hopefully others as well.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post and for the photos you've shared from your lovely gardens. I have beauty berry also and am enjoying those gorgeous purple berries right now, a real treat to see.

    Have a lovely holiday today & a great week ~ FlowerLady

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Lorraine! I'm going to look for "Sanctuary --Gardening for the Soul"--it sounds like a book I would really enjoy!

  2. What a thoughtful and touching post, Leslie. I, too, felt unaccepted in my youth, just never found my peeps. So much of my life would have been different if I had found my calling early on. But, we take our path as we are supposed to, I guess.

    I agree with so much of what you are writing. Gardening centers me. It engages me like nothing else. It gives me the sense of satisfaction that few pursuits do, even if things don't work out exactly as planned.

    "Planting a seed is the strongest profession of faith I can think of." This is such a strong affirmation and I am totally there with you.

    We are kindred spirits. I wish we were neighbors. ;0D

    I hope you are off today, so that you can spend time in your garden.

    1. Thank you, Daisy! For weeks, I was afraid to read the comments on this post because the post was so "personal." Well, your kind words really warmed my heart; they mean a great deal to me. I wish I hadn't been afraid to read them for so long.

  3. Oooh ~ I think you've been in my head! Only I don't "think" nearly as eloquently as you "write". This post is 100% relatable on every level. So beautiful, Leslie. And your photos ~ gorgeous ~ with just a hint of something. I want to say haunting, but that's not it. Otherworldly? Yeah, I'm going with otherworldly . . . they have a spiritual feel to them.

    Seeing a new post from you is like a gift . . . . Thank you.

    1. Oh, thank you, Eli. You are way too kind. I feel undeserving of such a lovely comment, but I really appreciate it.

  4. Hi Leslie, What a wonderful and heartfelt post and I totally agree with you. Gardening has and will always be there for me no matter what other changes happen in my life. It is my passion! When the world gets too mean, I immerse myself in the garden to create beauty. It renews me. I always enjoy your posts and garden photos.

  5. I didn't have your email address, so I am just posting here to check on you and hubby. I will be praying that y'all make it through Hurricane Michael unscathed. Please check in with us when you are able. Blessings, blessings, blessings...

  6. Leslie, I'm also thinking of you as I see the destruction from Hurricane Michael on the news. Praying you are safe and hoping your garden will fare as best as possible.