I have to confess that I am a terrible gardener – really terrible. I have fits of enthusiasm where I garden from dawn to dusk for three days in a row, but then I give up, exhausted, and don’t wield a trowel for another two or three years. In the meantime my garden gets more and more wild and chaotic. There are ‘flowerbeds’ containing nothing but sycamore trees, brambles and grass. While the grass appears happy to thrive in the flowerbeds, it is less keen to grow on the lawn which is 80% moss (with bones the foxes have scavenged, dandelions and faded plastic toys making up a large chunk of the remaining 20%).
Rather than thrill you with a photo of the large wilderness which is my back garden (which I suppose would at least be a Lenten theme), I have chosen a picture of a euphorbia from the front of the house. This dear plant is the nearest thing I have to a brilliant gardening success story.
Three years ago (when the back garden was in a poor state, but somewhat better than it is today) I noticed that there were three beautiful plants which seemed to thrive there every year despite my appalling neglect: euphorbia, sedum and primroses. It may be that these particular plants thrive on close contact with brambles and sycamore trees, but I guess it’s just that the soil conditions, climate and other unknown characteristics of my garden suit them. In one of my wild and enthusiastic three day gardening extravaganzas, I dug up the overgrown bed at the front of the house, emptied it of as many weeds as I could manage, and transplanted some of the thriving plants I’d found at the back of the house.
We’re now three years on, and the front garden is also pretty over-grown, weedy and unkempt, but these plants have found a place which suits them and I think they look pretty happy.
It’s a lesson to me as I think about thriving and flourishing in the place where I am. Sometimes it’s very easy to expend an awful lot of energy plugging away, trying to make everything look ‘right’ and under control. I can have fits of enthusiasm where I try to be more gregarious, out-going and extraverted. I can try hard to look like everyone else, to fit in and to be interested in the things which others seem to find fascinating. But I really can’t carry on like that for very long before collapsing in a bit of a heap.
I don’t know how I would describe the soil conditions, climate and characteristics of the place where I am – this garden of my self – but the kinds of things which thrive there are calm, spacious, kind, quiet, delicate, wild, unusual, thoughtful, quirky, beautiful and just a little bit bonkers. I somehow think that for myself (and the other people in my world) my gardening would be a bit more successful if I learned to appreciate these things all finding their place – growing, interacting and mingling in some interesting and unusual way – rather than trying to force other things to grow there instead.
I need to learn to appreciate the beauty of a garden in which euphorbia, brambles, sycamore, sedum, grass and primroses all thrive together and have their place. Someone else’s place can have the magnificent dahlias in straight lines and the neatly trimmed lawn. I’ll learn to appreciate that place too, but also be a bit relieved I don’t have to sit there for too long.
Today I had a singing lesson with my wonderful friend Alice and took a photo of the candle sitting on top of her piano. I like the small flame in the darkness and its reflection in the glass. The photo reminds me of a story I first read many years ago and which I think of often as it sums up what I aspire to in the spiritual life:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
Today I’m feeling a bit slow and lethargic (quite a long way from ‘all flame’!). I thought this photo of a blocked drain, full of bits of dried out pine needles, dust and little bits of gravel was a good image to represent that.
It has been interesting for me writing this blog, being able to look back over the last few months and observe how my mood, energy levels and emotions constantly shift and weave, ebb and flow. It’s made me even more aware of the cycles we all live through.
Some day soon the rain will fall again and wash the drain clear. Tomorrow I may wake up with a bit more energy and sooner or later things will get moving again.