One Garden at a Time

Can gardening help?

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY BLANCHE DERBY

The root word for “Spring” is springan (Middle English), meaning to “jump up.” It can mean a source of water, or a trap or coil, but for us gardeners it portrays a longed-for burst of life jumping up after the sleep of Winter.

We’re usually ready for it before it actually arrives: Mrs. C.W. Earle in her 1897 Pot Pourri for a Surrey Garden imagined unseen bulbs “firmly and strongly pushing through the cold brown earth; nothing in all the year gives such a sense of power and joy.” How right she was, and certainly we gardeners appreciate Spring. But do we take Spring, like many miracles, for granted?

John Clare, a l9th century laborer and poet, wrote:

The trees still deepen in their bloom
Grass green the meadow lands
And flowers with every morning come
As dropt by fairy hands.

His joy, though, was mingled with distrust of what was happening to the world outside his garden. Enclosure was turning the wild countryside into controlled fields. Industrial progress included railways and new factories. His poetry reflects not only the beauty but also the poignant fragility of the natural world, and poor John Clare ended his life in an asylum for the insane.

In 1864, the year Clare died, an American, George Perkins Marsh, published Man and Nature. This was an attempt to warn his contemporaries that damaging the balance of nature, particularly by cutting down too many trees and overgrazing land, would have disastrous consequences. His book sold well and encouraged an era of “loving nature,” but in spite of all this, 150 years later, we are hearing the same pleas and warnings.

Here, where I live, the long, brown Winters are followed by a brilliance reminiscent of John Clare’s joy when “grass greens the meadow land.” But here, the brightness of the green I see all over is too often that of lawns doctored with chemicals.

All we gardeners love nature—we wouldn’t be gardening if we did not. But how to control and keep balance at the same time? Without controlled spaces, Nature springs—and goes on springing, regardless of our plans! But we are being warned that taking over the Earth, disregarding its balances, can only lead to disaster. We are fearful.

As I watch my bulbs come up, appearing like flowers planted “by fairy hands,” I am joyful—but fearful, too. I am fearful that we take the miracle of Spring, the beauty of the Earth, for granted.

I am cursed with fear, but perhaps blessed with some hope, as well. For I am remembering the millions of gardeners and their gardens, criss-crossing the continent and the world itself. Added up, maybe we can control some of Nature’s balance. We can create small sanctuaries for birds and butterflies, flowers and trees, one plot at a time. Small, yes, but added up maybe more powerful than we think. One garden at a time, we can respect and embrace the living force of Nature, the irresistible spring of life. Apart, but together, maybe we gardeners can rejoice in Spring, as poets and gardeners have rejoiced since poetry and gardening began.

For truly not only do we need Spring, but Spring needs us, as well.

The boxed quotes are all reprinted from Forest Bathing Retreat by Hannah Fries. Published by Storey Publishing.

This article was published originally in 2019, in GreenPrints Issue #117.


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