Beneficent Gardening is my first book. It is a book that takes a look at gardening from a spiritual perspective, providing tips for both beginner and seasoned gardeners.
Please enjoy the excerpt below as well as the table of contents for the book and use the contact form to reach out with any questions.
GARNENING TIPS WITH SPIRITUAL SPARKS
- GAN EDEN
- SEED CATALOGS
- TURN OVER
- TICK TOCK EARLY SPRING GARDENER
- CREEPY CRAWLY
- DAMN WABBITS
- LAWN ENVY
- RASPBERRY JAM
- BAY LEAVES AND PARSLEY
- THE GREEN HOUSE
- MR. MOLE
- THE OLD CATALPA
- EIN GEDI
- REAP WHAT YOU SOW
- ABUNDANT GARDEN ABUNDANT PEACE
Now the Lord God took man, and He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and preserve it.
The Garden of Eden is missing in our experience, but can we turn a finite stretch of dirt into something wondrous? If the Master of the Universe turned nothingness into perfection, can we feeble imitators transform an unused plot of ground into a beautiful garden?
We are overstimulated, pulled in all directions, unable to digest all the news and information that bombards us. We fight traffic, repetitively read and update our smart devices, rush here and there, act conflicted, and sometimes forget to breathe. Even if we possess all of the material necessities, we may still suffer a longing. We lack something important. We are missing tranquility. Peace is nowhere to be found.
We can find tranquility in the garden. What happens when we come home from a hard day’s labor and we take a moment to water the vegetables? We experience the completeness we felt when the vegetable bed was weeded and planted. We nurture and honor creation. We observe nature and experience joy. The moment is not wasted. We experience the beneficence of the garden.
If humanity succumbed to where we find ourselves today after being born into a perfect world, why shouldn’t we travel in the opposite direction, heavenward, while here on earth? There is much to be gained in the process. We cannot start to redeem humanity by repairing the world until we redeem ourselves by noticing what is right around us.
With a connection to the garden we remind ourselves that we are part of the natural world. With simple tools, a shovel and a rake, we orchestrate what happens to a little plot of earth. We link to the natural world. We feel our muscles and smell the dirt.
We decide what to grow; for instance, broccoli. Our thoughts of weeding, planting, and watering the broccoli turns into action. We visualize the broccoli and we get to work. We are the thinkers and the doers. The broccoli does not think about growing. Like the broccoli, all the other vegetables that we plant follow their natural course without intention or thought. We choose how to spend our time. Why shouldn’t we spend time creating a beautiful garden? Creation starts with an idea.
Where is your spot of earth? Every piece of land and every person is unique. Every season and every harvest is different. Your garden will be like no other. Your garden will generate warmth, wonderment, and appreciation.
The first step may be the simple determination to move forward. With a shovel and a rake, a trowel and a hand tool to help with weeding, you are in business. After that, pick a sunny spot, the sunnier the better. A flat spot is better than a sloping spot. If you are stuck with a slope, plant across to catch the rain and keep the soil from washing away. A lot of mulch will also help the soil. It is going to get hot in the summer, so make sure you are near a faucet with a hose that reaches where it needs to go. Plant what you like to eat. Peas, lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and beets are easy to grow. Watch how the sun shines across the garden. Try to run your rows north and south for fullest exposure. Keep the taller plants to the back and graduate down to the shorter plants.
You are participating in a tradition as old as humankind. You have taken a divine step. The food you grow will invariably lead you to thanksgiving and engagement. You are inviting the Master of the Universe to His garden.
THE OLD CATALPA
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai used to say, “If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go and meet the Messiah.”
Avot de Rabbi Natan 31b
The old Catalpa tree was a haven for the birds each spring. As the Catalpa’s leaves grew again, songbirds established their nests which were soon hidden by the Catalpa’s floppy green leaves. The nestlings became all but invisible, although their chirping and their parents’ frequent excursions to bring food to the nests confirmed their presence. April often brought a couple of teaser days when the clouds parted and the temperature warmed enough to sit outside and soak in the sun’s warmth while listening to the constant cries for food from the baby birds hidden inside the Catalpa’s canopy.
The old Catalpa was also a jungle gym for children, mostly boys around age nine or ten, who could not resist climbing the trunk starting where it had a big bump to ascend to its platform where the main branches began. Eventually, the tree started growing some weeds up there where the leaves pooled up and a neighborhood raccoon left some scat. The Catalpa also had lots of holes higher up where the woodpeckers hollowed out its branches, but the old tree continued to grow majestically year after year. The tree’s jasmine scented flowers always bloomed late and when a late July wind storm timed it just right, the white flowers fell in mass and covered the grass below like a summer’s snow. Sitting between the house and the afternoon sun, the Catalpa was the home’s air conditioner, providing needed shade during the hottest afternoons of August and September. In November and December, the Catalpa made a huge mess when all the leaves came down, and it was a hassle to rake up all the leaves, but it forced us outside to get some exercise when we would otherwise be homebound on cold and wet autumn days.
When the big Catalpa branch came down with a loud earth shaking boom, I was on the other side of the house mowing the lawn with the John Deere. I had just mowed the Catalpa side of the yard minutes before. I heard a very loud crash. I had no idea what it was. Coming around the house, the Catalpa’s largest branch sheared off the main part of the tree, bringing down other branches with it. Curiously, the most vulnerable looking spots where the woodpeckers had carved out holes were still intact, but it was clear that the tree was a hazard and that we were lucky it had not fallen on anyone. We had not realized how dangerous it was, but we loved that tree so we had turned a blind eye to how it had rotted as it continued to grow. It was a hazard and we needed to take it out. We were so sorry to see it go that we paid a pretty penny to the local nursery to order us another one and we planted the new little tree as close as we could to where the old Catalpa had stood.
The old Catalpa transformed that part of the yard from something barren into a friendly and beautiful environment that had something for everyone, a home for the birds, a playground for the children, and cooling shade for the house. The yard looked empty without it, even when we planted the new little Catalpa. We knew that it would take years and years for the new Catalpa to rival the old one.
Whereas we have a culture that celebrates youthful vitality, viewing old age as a liability is a mistake. It is true that physically we will weaken, decay and break, just like an old tree. But our old Catalpa was at its most majestic and beneficent in its old age. The strength of its branches had weakened and its days were numbered, but the soul of that tree, and what it provided in its environment, grew richer and more valuable each year, until it finally crashed.
The sages of the Talmud tell the story of an old man who was planting a tree. A young man passed by and asked him what he was planting. The old man told the young one that he was planting a carob tree. The youth asked critically, don’t you know that it takes 70 years for a carob tree to bear fruit? That’s okay, said the old man. Just as others planted for me, I plant for future generations.
No matter how diseased and hollow the old Catalpa became, its leaves yearned for nourishment every spring and it grew again and again, dignified and beautiful. As we age, we need not retire from the garden or any other meaningful pursuit. It may hurt our arthritic necks a little more each year to pull the weeds, but we know what, where, and when to plant; we know how to grow our garden better and better each year, and we finally have more time to engage in activities that are priceless. Just as the Catalpa’s leaves sought the sun, we seek relevance.
We may find seedlings from our trees scattered about in our gardens. Rather than pulling them like weeds, let’s give them their own pot. When they are ready, after a year or two of care, let’s remove them from their container and plant them in the yard in a good spot or gift them to someone who thinks he or she knows where they should go. Additionally, we can take cuttings from our Catalpas and rhododendrons, or any deciduous tree or perennial shrub of our choice, dip them in a little root hormone, pot them gently, make sure they are watered in summer, and keep the pots sheltered and away from the harshest winter storms. By spring we will have new trees and shrubs that sport new growth; that are readily available to beautify a yard, please the eye, create a playground, provide an environment for living creatures, and turn the barren into the cultivated.