It’s the Work of Gardening That Matters Most

Our mild winter here at Maplehurst in Pennsylvania is giving way to an early spring. Which means–I already feel behind.

In my imagination other gardeners find nothing but peace and happiness in their gardens. I find those, too. At times. But I also find a great deal of worry, stress, and general rushing-around. That probably tells you more about me than my garden.

Today, one of the first days of the year when I was really back into my garden, I felt those old familiar feelings. There’s so much to do! I’ll never get to everything! Why is my garden so out of control?

It’s one thing to feel that way at the height of summer. It’s perhaps expected that we’ll feel that way once the weeds get well and truly going. But early March? When only the tips of a few tulips are poking out of the ground? Even I knew that my thought pattern was ridiculous. Keep going this way, I recognized, and I was in for months of stress rather than joy.

That’s when it hit me: if gardening was all about the outcome, then I would go on feeling frenzied and worried and rushed. Because the perfect garden of my dreams really is beyond my limited human capacity to create.

But does that mean there’s no point? That I should simply give up? Perhaps take up some less taxing hobby?

But no. I could never do that. I will go on gardening because deep down I know that it isn’t the final “product” that matters most. In fact, a garden is never final in any way because it changes with every passing moment. The light shifts. A breeze picks up. A petal drops.

Gardening is about the process. It’s about the journey. And truly, for me, it is all about the work. It’s the tending, the cultivating, the digging. It’s dirt under my nails, and aching muscles, and a chance to get out of my head and reconnect with the earth.

Gardens are wonderful. But gardening is a daily miracle.

What a gift.

Why I Garden

What is a garden? It is our beginning, and it is our end. We were always meant to be gardeners, to be caretakers of green and fruitful places. That we originate in Eden is a truth written in the DNA of our bodies as much as it is written in our souls. We are dust and dirt. In death, we return to the ground. But what of our souls? The heaven we anticipate is a paradise, a sheltered garden. That is what the ancient stories say.

Beginnings and endings are so well defined. So crisp and sharp, you could prick your finger on them and not even mind. But we live our lives in the middle, and the middle is so often a muddle of soft gray. Not sharp enough to cut, but so easily drained of color and life, I am sometimes tempted to lie down like Briar Rose and sleep my life away.

These are the months when I feel that temptation most acutely. These soft and soggy days of late winter. Whatever snow remains is more mud than crystal. The air isn’t cold enough to invigorate, but it isn’t warm enough to cheer, either. Last summer’s garden feels as long-ago and far-away as Eden. Perhaps I only dreamed those flowers.

I need something to light a fire under the lukewarm water of these days and my familiar, late-winter despondency. I need to live a chapter rooted in my beginning that grows like a green vine toward heaven. I need to make a garden. More than that: I need a flower garden.

It won’t be Eden, and it won’t be paradise, but on certain days and at certain moments (early June, golden hour, late September at sunrise after a rain) I’ll be sure that the garden of our beginning and our end has somehow drawn near, and Eden itself will glimmer just at the edge of sight.

Will beauty save the world? I don’t know, but year after year it saves me. In late-winter, my dream of a garden is the one thing that pulls me to my feet. I shrug off despair with every tiny seed dropped in a tray of soil. I hope for heaven—I do—but that is such a far-off hope. In a garden, memories of Eden and dreams of heaven mingle, and I am finally able to say with conviction: right here, right now, here in this middle place, all is well.

And, finally: I am rooted. I am at peace. I hold joy in dirt-stained hands.

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