This garden story is a tribute to my mom. She’s the one who had the original vision that transformed my grandfather’s quarter acre of lawn into a grouping of perennial gardens over 25+ years. The idea for such a transformation was a bit of a shock. Especially, because my grandfather’s lawn was his pride and joy. It was the the greenest, most lush grass in all of southern New Hampshire – maybe even in all of the Granite State. It there was ever a weed to be found, he’d be right on it. However, over the years, the reality hit. The time and cost for the upkeep of a pristine lawn is a monumental challenge…and honestly, really bad for our environment.
Now, the formerly highly manicured lawn is a series of small ‘garden rooms’ as my mother calls them. She often reflects how she created her plan by looking out the backyard from inside the house. Over time — as in the time of over two decades — today’s perennial gardens have very little grass or lawn and instead are a series of ‘rooms’ with sitting areas to relax and take in the view (And in many cases, enjoy a garden inspired cocktail. Raise your hand if you’d like a Lavender Gimlet!)
Back to the garden and the thoughts about church. When asked what kind of garden we have, I used to just say, “Oh, just a perennial garden – with a small area for summer vegetables.” Now, I often refer to the same space as a cottage garden – because of an elderly neighbor. I think of how he (Dennis) used to find a solace in our garden before his wife passed away from cancer. While Maggie was ill, he would bring his dog, Luke, to visit and stroll through the garden (it was always a good stop for Luke on hot summer days, as it’s customary for all canine visitors to receive treats and fresh water when they stop by). Dennis emigrated to the US from England decades ago, and always shared how our gardens reminded him of the cottage gardens “back home”. Because of his testimony, I confidently now say our garden is a ‘cottage garden’.
According to my mother, this cottage garden is also our family church. It’s not only a place for solace, we, as well as Dennis and other friends have often found over the years, but also a destination worthy of contemplation, prayer, meditation, and gratitude. I grew up Catholic, and always think of chimes, kneelers, Saints, baptismal fonts, candles, stained glass, and incense as being important parts of the physical things one would find in a church. Well, you can find all those items in our garden, too.
We have chimes and kneelers.
We also have Saints and fonts (well, actually birdbaths – and there are seven across the various garden rooms).
Our Saints include Saint Fiacre, the Patron Saint of Gardening. He overlooks a birdbath and has a prominent spot in the garden landscape all year long.
We also have Saint Francis, that Patron Saint of Animals. He also keeps watch in the garden year round. The neighborhood garden cat especially likes his company.
And while not technically a Saint, there is some diversity of garden statuary with the inclusion of Budai often referred to as Happy Buddah or Fat Buddah – a harbinger of abundance and good health. He sits on a small granite block, keeping him off the ground, and faces the back door of my home that leads to the garden. You can find him sitting among some roses – not far too far from Saint Fiacre.
Oh, and there are many candles, stained glass, incense, as well as smudging herbs like sage, rosemary, and lavender (yes, we use the lavender for more than cocktails!)
When this garden started it’s transition from an area of green lawn to the cottage garden we now enjoy, there was never the overt intent to create a ‘church’ environment. It’s one of those things that just happened. I’m sure other gardeners can attest to how this happens and may see similarities in their own environments, too.
I usually end my garden stories with a themed quote. But this post is different because my mother inspired it – so, I’m ending with a piece by her favorite poet. I think this is perfect!
Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church
by Emily Dickinson
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.
from (02138: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, ) Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)
Interesting note: I never realized this poem was from the Belknap Press of Harvard University until I searched it for this post. There’s no relation to me, but it seems that a better poem could not have been planned for this piece.