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Deeper Gardening

by Mark Rendell
Gardening to live life to the full

1. Autumn is affirming –our efforts bear fruit in the harvests of autumn. The quality of our autumn is due in large part to the effort we made in the previous spring. Inextricably linked, Autumn, then, is the yin to spring’s yang, the drawing in to the spinning out, the dying down to the bursting forth.  Autumn is the time for secrets to be revealed. Purple, orange, red and scarlet – a seductive jewel box is nature’s reward. This concerted burst of vibrant colour before the quieter shades of winter drape the landscape reminds us of the important role of light and heat in our lives. Autumn leaves a reminder – it is the swish of nature’s cape, deeper truths revealed in the flick of an eye, a trick of the light, a sunbeam caught and magnified in the drop of dew on the grass, searing the edge of a translucent leaf. Flat angles of sunlight force us to see things differently, starkly but sublimely. Autumn is the time for reflection, assessing, evaluating. How will we garden next year? 

2. Winter is wonderful – embrace this time of stillness in the garden. See the opportunity it gives for quiet reflection on the ‘bones’ of the garden – its shape, its size, its underlying structure. These three qualities will not be so readily apparent in other seasons but they are what gives the garden its essential character. Every garden needs a time to rest and recuperate and so do we. How do we ensure the season of winter in our own lives? Do we take time to be still, reflect and review? And what of the action out of sight and beneath the surface? Those rounded factories of sugar and energy, stored quietly under the earth all summer long now stir to life deep beneath our feet. And how aware are we of the deeper currents at play in our lives? Do we need the quiet monochrome properties of winter to help nudge us into deeper meditations about life and the many cycles of birth, death and rebirth at play all around us?

3. Spring is scintillating – life’s irrepressible urge to renew itself is captured in the bud’s swell and the flower’s unfurling. Green is the colour of spring, gorgeous green signalling life renewed, the return of light, of hope fulfilled. Nothing can stop spring. Spring represents increase: activity, light, warmth. Spring is noisy, chaotic, cheerful and above all, playful.  Spring salutes everything young, new and novel.
Spring is determined and resolute and will sweep everything along in a cheerful wave of fussy, busy-ness. Spring reminds us of the need to be prepared, potentialised, above all, ready to move, to strike, to launch out, to hoist the sails of our intentions and ride the waves.

4. Summer is swell – this is ‘mid-flight’ time. The focus is on the growing and the fulfilling, the nourishing and the watering, the repetitive and the routine. Summer is a time for caring, guarding, securing, nourishing, maintaining and watching. Safe in the knowledge of the sun’s benevolence, our job is to work in tandem with it to guide the life processes already at work, tending to their needs, helping our plants to grow into their potential – a time for the focus to be outside of ourselves, a time to just be outside.  Summer deals with what is, rather than what may be (Spring) or what was (autumn). It is the time for appearances, the manifested, the tangible.

5. The Sun and its life-giving trail
Follow the sweep of the shadows and plot the way the sun blazes a trail through your garden. Noticing this trail will determine where and when your coolest and warmest spots are. This will help you to place the right sort of plant in the right sort of place. We also respond to warmth and light rather like plants – noticing this trail for ourselves may determine the best place to locate a new patio or bench.

If we talk about the sun, we must also talk about time. Your garden is a simple sundial. Take a look at your garden right now and the sun will be creating the same light and darker areas in six months time. What will be the difference between then and now? Our efforts! Gardening links us to the true nature of time – cycles and rhythms, seen through the emergence, flowering, leaf-drop and dying of our crops, plants and trees.  Death in the garden leads to renewal – old plant matter rots down into life-giving compost; gaps in the border lead to new possibilities. When we understand this, we can see the path of our own lives in similar, natural ways.

6. Which way does your garden face?
Understand the special qualities that are brought to your garden because of its orientation. An east-facing garden has a very different set of possibilities than a west-facing one.
We will behave differently in our gardens than our neighbours on the other side of the street simply because the path of the sun will cast a different set of shadows through our gardens. 

7. The soil – the nourishing carpet beneath our feet
Soil is everything, it will determine the health and longevity of your plants. It also determines the palette of plants that will grow well there – acidic or alkaline, sandy or clayey. Get to know deeply your soil and nurture it well. It is the foundation on which everything else rests. Give your soil a good start by getting a compost bin to recycle your organic waste from the kitchen and garden.

In our own lives, our soil (our foundation) is our experiences turned over and forked through into the goodness of wisdom and learning. How well do we break down the big clods to prepare a good soil? What tools do we bring to the digging? What tools do we bring to our own learning and processing, breaking down the bigger problems into manageable chunks? Do we have all the tools we need? Is the soil of our own lives able to support the seeds and crops of wishes, desires and responsibilities that we have? Get digging!

8. Water – our deepest relationship
Water is the trigger for life, too – the presence of water can germinate the tiniest seed in the darkest place to reach upwards towards the light and fulfil its potential. How well do we keep our seeds and crops (our ideas, goals, desires, responsibilities) watered?

Honour the life-giving properties of water. Conserve it well and use it appropriately. Scarcity of water is an invitation for us to re-attach value to this precious commodity. Do all you can to prevent water loss (through rainfall capture, mulching, watering at appropriate times, for example) and garden according to water availability. This is our new reality.

So, what is a garden? A place where we can reconnect with the world and each other; where we can learn about our lives and where we can become truly more loving and powerful. 

Mark Rendell February 2006