By Brad Baker
The seed packet instructs to plant three inches apart in rows spaced one foot. Knowing each plant can produce six to ten fruits, I am salivating at the prospect of a huge pot of soup forthcoming just as the first frost occurs. But, alas, the garden seldom works out perfectly; the bugs get one, the rabbit another, the drought a bunch more. Yet the final product from each miracle seed is just as sweet. Gardening, it seems, is much like how the sages tell us to approach Judaism, in that we should strive toward our vision of holiness, but always are on the journey.
Sound and time fall away.
Garden, now solace,
Now curiosity. Now Mother Earth,
Offering balance in exchange for being present.
Beauty, wondrous and personal,
Shows us the soul.
Love grows possible.
So how do we make peace with all the stressors in our garden, in our life? It begins with preparation; add compost to the soil, choose the right plan for the right space, have water handy when the rain fails. This is much like our daily or weekly Torah readings where the foibles of our humanity are laid bare and we can safely dwell upon them.
I just finished reading The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith (2020), in which she offers us some clues through her research. One basic fact we’ve known for years is that simply being in a garden space or even just seeing plants is calming. I practice this daily, even hourly, and know I am blessed that I have the opportunity to act upon this. For me it is a need, not just a desire. Feeling the breeze and watching the bee and smelling the rose uplift my spirit continually. For me they are free, and for that I am eternally grateful. According to Stuart-Smith, that simple thought helps me stay healthy and it is renewable every second.
Another profound aspect of gardening and our spiritual health is via the power of sharing. Maybe it’s done by accompanying another for a walk in the park. Maybe with a gift of fruit or flower, or maybe in recounting an experience. These connections strengthen the positive strands of social harmony, our community. I’ve come to realize that the most powerful way I can help is by creating a garden space that is open to others: wheelchair accessible, in the front yard, at the park, at a school. To see the glow of joy on someone’s face as they bite into the self-picked snow pea or smell the lilac flower or chase a butterfly is overwhelmingly joyful for me.
Since many folks do not have the option to garden, let us open ours to others as this mitzvah surely will bring us more and more happiness.