Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rock Garden

So, I have this stupid rock garden.

Don't get me wrong. I have two vegetable gardens that bring me great delight (and hopefully great zucchini and striped beets this year). It's this stupid rock garden that makes me growl.

First of all, it's big. Secondly, whoever planted it wanted plants to succeed each other throughout the growing season. This may be lovely and all, but it also makes for a very full garden. And, did I mention the rocks? Here's what rocks do in a garden: they harbour fugitive weeds. And, as soon as I've finished weeding the garden, they release new ones.

Finally, my garden has a couple of very subtle weeds that lurk in it, most notably Creeping Charlie. Two years ago, old Chuck took over half of our back lawn and even the region's environmentalists threw up their hands and told us to spray it dead. We have a new lawn now, but we weren't about to spray the rock garden. It is pretty, at least.

So, I go outside to look at the tulips in bloom, to see what survived the winter and what didn't. I'm itching to get my fingers into soil and so far only the peas have come up in the vegetable garden. I get a tool and pull out dandelions from the garden. And then I sit on one of the rocks and pull handful after handful of weeds. And I put my eye right down to the thyme and the violets and find tendrils of Creeping Charlie sneaking through them, and I slip a finger beneath and pull them out. I make mounds of pulled weeds. I snap off dead branches and twigs.

And then two days later, I do it all over again.

When we moved into this house, the rock garden was home to sumac and goldenrod. Shrubs had run rampant and Chuck had had his way with it. I knew it was a recovery operation and I was happy to do it. What I'm less happy about is that it comes back. Really really fast.

(I will say that I am grateful for the garden. I do take photos of it. I make bouquets from it. I cut chives from it for salads. I know my apartment-dweller friends wish they could have a garden. I have opted not to bulldoze it. But still, my relationship with the garden is tenuous - like a pet the kids promised to feed and clean up after which ends up being the parent's responsibility on a dark winter morning.)

Maybe it was because the sun felt good on my back as I weeded the other day. Maybe it was because the kids were playing nicely. Maybe it was because the rain had softened the ground and the weeds weren't playing hard to get. Maybe it was because the double colour of the lungwort was stunning.

Because what happened was this: I started to see the stupid rock garden as a metaphor for my inner life. Or at least that I approach both in the same way, willing to do the big recovery project more than the daily tending, frustrated that weeds come back, wanting everything to stay the same like furniture does once it is arranged. It's that Creeping Charlie that bugs me. In my inner life, anxiety is like Creeping Charlie. It's insidious and seems to survive regardless of what I do. I'd like to blast it with chemicals sometime, but I'm afraid of wrecking the rest of the garden. Like the garden, I get frustrated with what is left undone in my inner work. I want it all weeded now, thank you very much. I remember when we moved to another house with a rundown yard and I assumed we could pick all the dandelions in the bright yellow backyard in oh, an hour or so. Five hours later we had cleared a small patch.

I wonder what would happen if I shifted perspective. In my garden and life, what if I just worked happily on a little area each day and then smiled at the progress. And then the next day did a bit more elsewhere and sniffed the lavender. If I accepted that the weeds will come, that the presence of weeds is not an affront to my hard work or a failure, but just reality in a broken beautiful world. I don't want to embrace the weeds, to welcome whatever the wind blows into the garden - I can't imagine cultivating Creeping Charlie as a friend, but I want to learn to recognize where he lurks and to calmly remove him before he takes over.

There's a parable like this - about letting weeds grow up with good crops for fear of destroying the good in removing the bad. It's a parable about why God allows evil. It might explain Creeping Charlie, anxiety and the other weeds that lurk within my garden, hidden under rocks.

Growing a garden is not like arranging furniture. Things change. Things sprout up or are choked off. It's a work in progress. Learning to accept this is a process for me too.

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.
Gardening is an instrument of grace.
- May Sarton

Gardening is an active participation in
The deepest mysteries of the universe.
- Thomas Berry


  1. Oh I can so relate! I have not been much of a gardner, and will have to start from scratch at our new home (which is so sad - I drove past our old house last week and got teary looking at the tulips I had lovingly planted). When I did have a garden, I found weeding so frustrating. And yes - it does remind us of what goes on internally. It's hard to see progress when we're up close and staring at the weeds - and who wants to spend too much time focusing on the weeds that are tangled around our hearts? And yet, when we do...what beauty!

  2. "that the presence of weeds is not an affront to my hard work or a failure, but just reality in a broken beautiful world"
    What a great word of grace, one that I needed today. Thanks!