by Jenny Arnold
I spend a great deal of each day alone and don’t like it too much. Learning to accept this aloneness is a work in progress that I have come to acknowledge is teaching me endurance in my increasing dependence upon my relationship with Abba Father.
However, there is one place where being alone is Okay. It’s alright. It’s a gift. And that place is my small area of garden which I have written about in an earlier article.
Pottering about feeling for weeds, dead heading the climbing rose, snipping the oregano and sage for my pasta sauce, and checking to see if my three courgette plants have given me any more gifts, watering my pots of geraniums and my tomato plants is a source of peace and calm.
During the past months (weather permitting) I have begun to practice my exercise routine out there in the mornings and then sit listening to the birds chattering and calling to one another, the buzz of the bees enjoying the fruits of my labours and the sounds of my neighbours carrying on their lives around me.
My Father’s Garden
I am blessed to have this outside space and I am blessed that growing up I knew my father’s garden which produced most of our vegetables, cut flowers for the house, and soft and hard fruits alike.
I recall lazy summer afternoons picking small stripy caterpillars from the cabbages and dropping them into a jam jar. These caterpillars, which seemed to positively abound amongst the veggies, would, if left, devour the growing plants.
The back garden was also the place we had a sand pit, a swing and a garden shed which was a kind of spooky place when I was small.
The front garden had rose beds. My father’s favourite was called Peace. It had large open blooms, yellow but turning to a pinky apricot at the petal’s edges and with a wonderful scent.
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my father gave me a little patch of garden for myself along with 3 packets of seeds. He showed me how to drill a shallow depression in the soil, trickle the seeds along the straight line, cover them over with soil and – wait.
I can still recall the feeling of absolute delight from the flowers that resulted. Something called Candytuft which gave a riot of pastel coloured flowers, night scented stocks and sweet peas in shades ranging through cream to yellow, to pink to scarlet and mauve to deepest purple. Sweet peas have remained my lifelong favourite, scented flower and their scent will always and ever remind me of my childhood home for throughout the summer months my mother would always have a bowl of them in the middle of the dining room table.
A Rich Heritage
I have many other fabulous and blessed memories of gardens: my maternal grandmother’s garden which was brick walled had hollyhocks growing tall against the back wall whilst on the south facing side wall, she grew loganberries (a hybrid between raspberries and blackberries). We ate bowlfuls of them all summer and then loganberry jam on our bread for tea in the winter months.
My paternal grandfather’s profession had actually been a gardener. He was, until retirement, Head Gardener on the Bathurst Estate in Cirencester, Gloucester where I was born. He knew his ‘stuff’ and his allotment in retirement produced prize-winning vegetables and flowers which he showed at the local Horticultural Society at the season’s end in late August and early September.
My grandmother had been a cook on the same estate and she showed her jams, preserves, pickles and always won first prize for her Victoria Sponge Sandwich – the taste of which remains on my tongue even as I write this.
Doesn’t it sound magical…
And of course that is where my love of my own garden stems from. Along with the country rambles my parents took me on most Sunday afternoons. Cirencester, at that time, was a small market town in the Cotswold’s with quiet country lanes and so I learned to recognise the song thrush, robin, wren (my father’s pet name for me Jenny Wren), the chiffchaff who arrived in early summer and left again in the autumn, and the cuckoo which is very rarely heard these days but whose call would echo across the fields. We knew the rhyme, ‘cuckoo comes in April, sings his song in May, lays his eggs in June and then he flies away.’ I don’t think I have heard a cuckoo for years now.
We also picked the wild flowers that grew along the hedgerows – scarlet pimpernel, hens and chickens, larkspur, cow parsley, maids a milking, cowl sips, bluebells, wild orchids, dog roses and wild honeysuckle.
I remember so much more: my grandfather showing me a weasel hypnotising a baby rabbit in a woodland clearing (yes, it’s true), a beautiful brown mole coming to the surface of a molehill in the middle of a field, the mushrooms you could pick and take home and the ones you couldn’t, pale blue eggs in a robin’s nest, the droppings of a barn owl, tiny but oh so sweet wild strawberries, and the sticklebacks in the clear stream which we caught in a jam jar.
But why do I relate all this? Well, because there are many spiritual lessons to be learnt from being in and observing Creation.
The Gospels tell us that during His ministry on earth, Jesus Christ often spent time in solitude in quiet places. Mark 1:35, ‘In the morning whilst it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place and there He prayed.’
Luke 5:15-16, ‘But now even more the report about Him went abroad and great crowds gathered about Him to be healed of their infirmities but He would withdraw to desolate places and pray.’
If our Lord felt the need for these times then how much more do we need them? Peace, solitude in quiet Places.
The business of life, careers, family commitments, household demands often leave us feeling stressed and harassed. Add into this equation television, trawling the web, internet shopping, social media et. al. And you will understand that God requires us to choose solitude in order to have a close relationship with Him by shutting out the world, praying, meditating, or just sitting in contemplative silence waiting on the Spirit.
Moses did it – Elijah did it – David did it – And we need to do it too.
The Book of Genesis tells us that God rested on the seventh day following His wonderful Creation. This first day of the week is no longer viewed as holy in our secular society and it’s just another day for shopping, working out in the gym, playing or watching sport etc, etc.
So if you are blessed with an outdoor space, no matter how small, cultivate it to be a tranquil place. Even if you do not have a garden, pots can be planted with shrubs, flowers, grasses, vegetables and bulbs. Hang up a bird feeder or two and you will soon have birds visiting. Many plants and herbs are great for attracting bees and butterflies. Are you getting my drift?
I found a lovely article on the web about trees and herbs mentioned in the Bible. The article suggested that we can bring a little bit of the Bible into our own garden by planting a fig perhaps, or a green bay, an olive (one that grows in a pot) or, if you have a huge space, even an oak. See https://www.dallasnews.com/arts-entertainment/2018/03/23/these-5-trees-take-you-on-a-biblical-journey-of-grace-and-growth/
I really like this idea and plan a garden reshuffle in the autumn.
Caring for Creation
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the degradation of the tropical rain forests. But the degradation of God’s Creation can equally be right beneath our noses. It is a sadness to me that so many gardens have now become desert places; so too our parks and communal outdoor places.
Telford is expanding rapidly and the vision for the town has always been to increase the population to 360,000. There is a great need to protect the Town Park with its walking and cycling tracks, its flora and fauna, its ponds. And there is a great need for new build estates to retain green spaces, trees and other plant life.
Surely we do not want to live in sterile, built up areas? And I believe that it is imperative upon us to grow in our gardens plants that will attract, support and sustain God’s wonderful Creation.
I also believe that it is imperative upon us as God’s people to involve ourselves in conservation, lobbying our MP’s to prevent further deforestation of the landscape and to urgently lobby for the provision of tree planting in new build estates.
Gardens can easily and simply become wildlife havens which can be fun, educational and Kingdom work.
Allotments are also great ways to not only exercise, teach children about food production and to provide organic, fresh vegetables which haven’t been in cold storage for weeks or even months and which by the time you buy them in the supermarket will have leached much of their nutritional value.
You can rent an allotment for around £40 per annum from the local authority and we need to use them because if not, these too will disappear beneath the developer’s bulldozers.
Genesis 2:15, ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’
Observing and taking part in the creation of a garden is a wonderful way to
- Learn about seasons
- Practise and observe how the fruit of the Spirit may grow in you!
So many biblical parables revolve around the agricultural economy of the time. Seasons, planting and harvesting, the care of animals and creation in general were all used by Jesus to illustrate the Kingdom of God in a way the people could relate to.
And gardeners will tell you time and time again of the importance of soil conditions, feeding and watering the young shoots, and biding your time before full maturity and a harvest can result. All these attributes are desirous for our spiritual development so gardening is a great way to get started!
So what do you need for gardening and caring for Creation in general:
Nurture or tender loving care
The removal of diseased parts
Shelter in harsh conditions and others I am sure you can name too.
Gardens are great for growing things and great for spiritual insight!
If you’ve got this far in this article then you will remember my joy as a little girl harvesting the candytuft. The scented stocks and the sweet peas – and there is nothing tastier than a courgette you’ve grown yourself from seed.
Have a go – you might just get to enjoy it. Oh yes, and what about sharing your harvest?
I was encouraged by my parents to take bunches of the flowers I had grown as a child to neighbours and to my grandparents – how lovely and joyous was that?