The Accidental Meditative Garden

It was never meant to be a meditative garden, but that's what it became, thanks to a shift in perspective.

As an idea, I think almost any garden is a meditative garden. Some, like Japanese rock gardens, are established with the intention that they will be a place of reflective calm. Other might sprout from the idea of wanting to grow our own food, landscape our lawn, or because we want to grow native plants and flowers to attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife.

No matter their origins, almost any of these gardens can be a meditative garden if we take the time to appreciate it. That, of course, is the catch. For a garden to be a place of meditation, we have to actually take the time to slow down, sit, and be present. And yet I often find myself thinking about which vegetables to start or how much mulch I need to put around my apple tree or any of the multitude of gardening tasks. It’s so easy to forget that the garden is a place of joy and comfort.

This is precisely the dilemma that the author of this story finds himself in. Neal Lemery writes in Taking A Moment To Be Still: “Too often, my time here becomes an obligation. Hurry up, get it done, and move on to the next task. But I am a gardener, not a laborer. It’s important to at times just be in the garden and let it nurture me, not just the other way around.”

If you’ve ever found that the joy of gardening is starting to feel more like job of gardening, this story is for you.

Find Peace In a Meditative Garden – Or A Story About One

This story comes from our archive spanning over 30 years, and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that imbue the joy of gardening into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope it does for you as well. Enjoy!

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Taking A Moment To Be Still

Sometimes we forget.

By Neal Lemery

“It doesn’t matter what you do,” he said, “so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching,” he said. ”The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

—Ray Bradbury

It was unusual for me, just sitting there in my garden, being still.

I’d had a long session with the trowel, the weed eater, and my hand pruners, attacking weeds, setting out plants, and generally tidying up my shade garden. Sweaty, dirty, and tired, I found a chair and a bottle of water and decided to catch my breath.

I looked at what I’d done, but more at what I needed to—and began making mental additions to my to-do list.

This is becoming a job, I thought. Gardening is a lot of work.

Maybe I should just take a moment and enjoy all of this, my own quiet corner of the world. Maybe it’s OK to take a break.

Maybe it’s more than OK.

Lately, when I’ve been reading about gardening, I’ve been diving deep into science and methods, all the how-to information. In the midst of researching an interesting new plant, I came across the Ray Bradbury quote above. Now, while I rested, it came back to my mind—and I gave myself a little talk.

Take a moment, take a breath, and enjoy the garden for what it is. Too often, my time here becomes an obligation. Hurry up, get it done, and move on to the next task.

But I am a gardener, not a laborer. It’s important to at times just be in the garden and let it nurture me, not just the other way around. After all, I am a human being, not a human doing.

And so I sat there. A swallow built a nest in the new birdhouse, a hummingbird enjoyed the blooming honeysuckle, sunlight played on the rhododendron. I breathed in the fresh air, and all the smells of spring.

The real beauty in the garden, I realized, was not all the work I’d done, though I certainly had provided some tidying up and structure to this little piece of paradise. The real joy in this place is all the creatures and plants that make this their home.

And one of them is me.

So the most important part of my job as gardener is to sit in a chair and enjoy my own place in this magnificent paradise. Here.

In this moment.

By Neal Lemery, published originally in 2017, in GreenPrints Issue #109. Illustrated by Christina Hess

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Do you have a favorite way to remind yourself that the garden is there for you just as much as you are there for your garden?

  • Thank you. My daughter in law and son are just getting into gardening seriously this year. I’m going to forward this article for their enjoyment and as a recommendation.


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