When Clarrisa Pinkola Estes wrote that the garden is a kind of religion, I’d never heard anything like that before… I mean I’ve been gardening for over a decade, spent many seasons watching things grow and return to the earth. Clearly I had taken much of what I learned and also applied it to life. I would also walk into a cathedral, with it’s collums, its windows, and it’s lights and shadows and think of how much it reminded me of a forest. But for some reason I’d never thought of the garden as a temple to go to and a teacher from which to learn about the world. Even having been exposed to so much Shamanism over the years the cultivated garden, so present in my every day life, had escaped notice. Estes said that:
“Sometimes, in order to bring a woman closer to this nature, I ask her to keep a garden. Let this be a psychic one or one with mud, dirt, green, and all the things that surround and help and assail. Let it represent the wild psyche. The garden is a concrete connection to life and death… Whatever can happen to a garden can happen to a soul and psyche — too much water, too little water, infestations, heat, storm, blossoming, bounty, beauty.”
When I read this I had to reread it again, just to make sure that someone had actually put it there. It felt like a deep affirmation as well as an embarrassment. The fact that there was something so true that I hadn’t learned to recognize or given words to. Over the years at times if I haven’t had a close friend to nurture me I’ve gone to my garden, checked on what was happening there and found solus, self recognition, and learning. Estes suggests that:
“During the life of the garden, women keep a diary, recording the signs of life-giving and life-taking. Each entry cooks up a psychic soup. In the garden we practice letting thoughts, ideas, preferences, desires, even loves, both live and die. We plant, we pull we bury. We dry seed, sow it, moisten it, support it, harvest.
The garden is a meditation practice, allowing the eye to see when it is time for something to die. In the garden one can see the time coming for both fruition and for dying back. In the garden one is moving with rather than against the inhalations and the exhalations of greater wild Nature.
Through this meditation, we acknowledge that the Life… cycle is a natural one. Both life-giving and death-dealing natures are waiting to be befriended, forever loved. In this process, we become like the cyclical wild. We have the ability to infuse energy and strengthen life, and to stand out of the way of what dies.”
Big changes in our lives can make it feel like the world is falling apart around us, yet having a garden to go to can remind and help know and feel deep down all the good that can come of death and rebirth. When we see something like a hurricane devastate a landscape we can’t take for granted what the earth gives us or how we relate to her. Our surroundings and our place are the essence of our being and we find our reflection there.
After enjoying the Chrysanthemum display in all it’s glory this fall it’s also been time to put the mums to rest for the winter, and refresh the display with the next season of plants we’ve prepared. We get to take part in this cycle… I’ve recently had some time free up so that I could do more volunteer work at the Conservatory. I was able to say to David our head gardener, “You want me to go ahead and cut back all the Mums and Cannas?” He smiled that kind of humble grateful surprised smile that comes across a face that is often too busy to ask for help. Having done this all before I pulled the plants into the back greenhouse and got to take part in preparing the plants for winter. A lot of thoughts moved through me. I felt wistful… maybe even a touch melancholy, and also full of wonder at a season where so much is coming to an end and so much is about to begin. Holding the pruners in hand felt invigorating, and reassuring. A perfect ritual for the season.