Gardening as spiritual practice

Many of us at this time of year look at our gardens with a slight tinge of nostalgia. The plants are still gorgeous, but hey, we’re Canadians. We know that it’s October and winter is just around the corner. Some of us are already looking at seed catalogues, thinking about next spring, or wondering when it would be a good time to put bulbs into the ground.

Yet there is so much still to enjoy and do in the garden of today: cleanup, dividing, snipping, gazing. The cooler temperatures make it even more enjoyable to be out among the flowers.

Those of us who have chosen gardening as one of our hobbies or our lifeblood know the immediacy of this work. It demands full attention. Even if we’re thinking about which plants might look great in a particular patch in the future, the task at hand draws us into the here and now. Other problems and worries fade away and the hours spent in the garden always surprise us when we finally decide to come in and clean up.

We have been thrilled at St. Saviour’s to have a new neighbour Virginie (and her company, TreeMobile) transform our lawn, with its few beautiful flowers, into a true urban orchard. Our grounds are now filled with native plants and pollinators, vegetables and fruit trees. All enhance our lovely neighbourhood, and provide fresh produce on a small scale for neighbours and friends who don’t have the space to plant. Come by to see us anytime.

So … what does this all have to do with gardening as a spiritual practice? The first verses of both the Christian (my tradition) and the Jewish holy book begin in a garden. The divine one gives to us mortals the stewardship of this fragile earth to tend and care for. Whether we see this as truth or myth, or even a fantasy, what a powerful mandate it can bestow on us all. Glorious enjoyment and plain hard work. A purpose for living. It takes skill to figure out which seeds are best for shady or sunny areas. It takes time to figure out “is this a weed?” or even “is this a harmful weed?” It takes perseverance to rescue fragile beauties when they are lacking the right amount of moisture or nutrients. It takes love to choose this hard work over easier pursuits. It even takes determination to find the time to “smell the roses.”

Our garden home needs us. Maybe you have no interest in physically working the earth. Maybe you have arthritis (I know that problem), or live in a condo. But maybe this garden image is really about more than just the physical plants and shrubs. Maybe it’s also about discerning which personal, political, or relational seeds are going to produce which kind of harvest. We have an election coming up soon; have I done my homework on figuring out where I stand on issues? Have I kept a feud going for so long that the landscape of a friendship is now like frozen ground? Have I torn up what I thought was a weed, only to find, to my chagrin, that I’ve also uprooted a healthy plant with it?

Our gardening chores in whatever realm of our lives bring beauty and fragrance and a bountiful harvest to be shared. Whatever field you labour in, may you know this joy. One never knows when one might meet the ultimate and divine one as we go about this important business. “And Mary, supposing Jesus to be the gardener, asked him …”


Rev. Shelley McVea is the priest-in-charge at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church () at Kimberley and Swanwick Avenues. Services are at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays. Watch Beach Metro News for upcoming events throughout 2016 as we celebrate our 125th anniversary.

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