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Archive for July, 2018

June: Mindful

2. June 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

Mindfulness is a state of being aware- of your body, your surroundings, your mind. Like many gardeners, I find gardening tasks themselves to be prayerful and contemplative. A lot of people confuse mindfulness with the feeling of being so deeply engaged in an activity that they separate from the world. Athletes and gardeners know this condition: you’re so focused on the task that the world retreats.

The Quiet Garden Movement (quietgarden.org), founded by the Reverend Philip Roderick, “nurtures access to outdoor space for prayer and reflection in a variety of settings, such as private homes, churches, retreats, schools and hospitals.” While any garden can be a Quiet Garden, the movement specifies that it be a space, or part of a space, specifically carved out for prayer, mindfulness, and contemplation.

Mindfulness, though, is not a retreat, but a quiet oneness with the world around you. You can’t really be mindful when engaged in a consuming task.

So I built mindful spaces into my garden. The Breezeway with its paired patio chairs, the outdoor desk in the Botanic. There’s a table in the Farm, as well as a bench against the warm brick wall and a chair in the corner, placed there for the specific purpose of meditating.

Spaces develop personalities. The Breezeway is friendly and public, a place to sit in the mornings when the children walk by on their way to the preschool next door. Some of the kids, getting to know me, would run up to the window if I was sitting inside the Breezeway room, much to the consternation of their parents.

The Botanic seems like the more public space, but the seating area is farther from the street, so it’s easy to sit there and not be noticed. It’s a shade garden, my first, as the old garden was relentlessly sunny. It’s a place to meditate, or to watch the world at a remove. Eventually, the bushes and trees will fill in, creating a private space, filtered by green.

The Farm is a working garden, but also a true room, as it’s completely cut off from the street by a six-foot fence. It has more seating areas than the other spaces, too—a table and chairs, a corner patio chair with a table, a bench. On cool days, you can sit on the bench with the warm brick garage wall at your back.

I find it difficult to be mindful in a garden, to let the moment take me. I focus too much on seeing the plants and not enough on being in the green space. The multiple seating areas give me a place to focus in, to be quiet, mindful, to just sit and let the space, and the gardener, be.

Leave me alone, said the garden
And I said, but gardening means gardening!
Doing things!
Digging and clipping and planting!

No, said the garden
I’m fine!
Just sit a while.

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1. June 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

At the old place, I had a patio garden, a perennial garden, and a vegetable garden each blending into the next. I built comparable spaces at the new place, too, but here these spaces are much more distinct because of how the house is situated on the property. The garden spaces mark the compass points: on the east, the patio (Breezeway and Front), to the north the perennial garden (the sideyard or “Botanic”); the south has the Farm, and to the west is the Gangway and Savory.

The garden spaces at the new place require different kinds of care—the Farm and the Gangway need harvesting, a little bit of weeding, and lots of watering. The Breezeway has a lot of potted plants, which need watering daily. The Botanic is constantly changing, as I add plants to what will eventually be another recreational, patio, and ornamental garden.

The type of garden also informs the use. A patio garden is for sitting, by design. A vegetable garden is a working garden. A front yard (or as here, side yard) garden is for passersby to enjoy.

I call my vegetable garden The Farm. I grow more than $1,000 worth of vegetables a year, which to the USDA makes it a farm, although they actually say “produced and sold;” since I don’t sell any of the produce, I’m more farm-adjacent. A lot of farmers, of course, will quibble with even that; to most farmers it’s not a farm without a tractor and some animals, and certainly not if it’s less than an acre. So I guess technically I don’t fit the definition after all. There goes my government subsidy.

This vegetable garden, however, with about 200 square feet of planted beds, is essentially my subsistence garden. I grow what I eat, and I eat pretty much only what I grow other than grains and the small amount of meat I consume. My housemates admonished me one winter day for never eating what they called “unprocessed food.” But in fact, my food in winter is all processed because I’m eating the canned, pickled, and frozen stock from my summer harvests. In other words, yes it’s “processed” but I’m not sure one can count home-grown, home-preserved food as “processed” as that word is currently understood.

Having a mobility-restricting injury made my relationship with the space frustrating. It turned all the gardens into “looking gardens.” An arm in a sling, fortunately, is not nearly as debilitating as a foot in a cast had been. At the very least, I could get into the garden, although all the planting and building I had planned got put off for several weeks. On the other hand (haha), my various “sons and daughters” (both my actual son and daughter and various of their friends who seem to have reverse-adopted me) helped with jobs like adding mulch, laying pavers, and building tiny walls. (I have this thing for tiny walls.)

Gardeners develop strategies for forcing themselves to relax in their gardens—seating areas that face away from known problems, arming themselves with friends or family members, outdoor lighting so they can at least sit there after dark.

People tell me I should “just enjoy” my garden, but they are imposing their idea of what enjoying a garden means. To me, it means working.

I like to have dirt under my nails.

After all, it’s a farm.

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