While on a road trip with my friend Glenda one cold and blustery afternoon, we stopped at a botanical garden. An oasis of colour and harmony greeted us, resplendent with flowering plants, tropical foliage and cacti. A cobblestone path dotted with wooden benches and wicker chairs wound past gurgling fountains, stone statues and knots of schoolchildren on a field trip.
The place wasn’t crowded. Just enough people surrounded us to feel embraced by life. Some crouched, taking photos of a low-growing flower. Others sat relaxed, sipping coffee and checking phones. A few seemed deeply engaged in conversation, while others gathered in groups around small tables, laughing and chatting; soaking in the humid warmth, a welcome contrast to the frigid temperatures outside.
Pausing to admire a tall white lily, I stood near a group of older women seated at one of the tables. Clearly, their outing had gone on awhile. Empty sandwich wrappers, water bottles and disposable coffee cups dotted their table. Frequent laughter erupted from the gathering. I couldn’t help noticing their topic of conversation: eccentric relatives. “He used to put his underwear on his head when he slept,” someone said of hers. “One day he forgot to take them off when he left the house. He walked into town that way! No one ever let him forget it!”
I moved on, hiding my laughter so they wouldn’t know I’d eavesdropped. How could I not, when the purpose of the garden is to absorb peace? To linger, embraced by beauty, warmth and growth? (Words are colourful growing things too, I’ve thought since. Perhaps, like a plant, even that charming story had grown over the years; tall like those lilies, as iconic family stories often do. Something perennially alive. Something to bring a smile; a moment of pleasure, in contrast to the multitude of chilling words that spring up like weeds all around us.)
Like that botanical garden, my own small growing beds bring me immense pleasure. When I sit in my wicker rocker on our back deck, cool mint tea beside (and inside) me; when I pass my hand over the herbs and flowers in my raised cattle troughs; when their fragrance, sweet with mint and rosemary, basil and lemon balm, fills up my senses, I forget the pesky things that have disturbed my peace of mind. It’s easy to be still in a garden. To remember that God created beauty and order and all loveliness for our pleasure.
I love this classic poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney, but until recently hadn’t known it had a second verse:
The kiss of the sun for pardon, The song of the birds for mirth, One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, Than anywhere else on earth.
For He broke it for us in a garden, Under the olive-trees, Where the angel of strength was the warden, And the soul of the world found ease.
Garden blessings to you.