It makes a lot of sense that humanity's very first home was Eden.
We moved into a new house about a year ago — a big red brick place in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. Inside, it’s all carved oak mantels and ancient wooden floorboards. Outside, it’s Eden. One of the major selling points when we first considered buying it was the beauty of the garden. In the front yard stands a magnolia tree, the largest of its species in all of Missouri. Each spring, it puts on a show, adorning itself with thousands of pink flowers. Under the magnolia is a riot of broad-leafed hosta plants, mottled and striped with more shades of green than seems physically possible. Rising above like little angels are the small white jeweled flowers of the lily of the valley. Nestled at the front gate are lilac bushes, and any visitor to our house walks between them, greeted by a hint of floral perfume. It’s fun to watch their faces light up with delight.
The garden springing to life each spring brings a sense of hope. Each new budding branch and each flower that unfurls its face to the sun is an icon of rebirth. Whatever cares or worries swirl around a person, in a garden they gently melt away. I’ve done experiments and have concluded that I feel more peaceful reading a book under the shade of our dogwood than I do sitting inside reading the same book. More rigorous studies than my trial-and-error method seem to show the same point – people are happier outside in the garden. The sun on our skin, the pure air, the birds chirping any d flirting in the bushes, all of it is conducive to greater health and well-being.
The benefits of a garden go beyond a relaxing book and the latte, and include getting our hands dirty in it. Working in the garden relieves stress, helps immune function, increases levels of Vitamin D, fights depression, and keeps our brains younger as we physically age.
Gardening is a chore very few people dread. Sure, maybe we complain at the outset, but once we get out there with the dirt between our fingers, its pungent smell like earthen incense on our skin, everything changes. The day slows down. There’s a ladybug on that leaf, a peony blossom wavering in the wind, a feeling of warmth radiating in the sun-soaked air. We only notice these details, and only some of the time, when in the garden. Here, we are more in touch with ourselves.
As I write this, the Solemnity of the Ascension that we celebrated last week is still on my mind. Coming as it does amid May flowers, this is a celebration that naturally has a connection with gardens. The Ascension is a lifting up, an enthronement of the physical, tactile beauty of this world. There is beauty inscribed into this world that is of infinite value, so much so that God takes it up to heaven with Him. I suppose this is why natural beauty has a heavenly quality and why it makes sense that Adam and Eve were given a garden to be their home.
I do all my best thinking when surrounded by nature. Its beauty calls forth the better part of my soul. It connects me with the nobler part of myself. It’s an interesting feeling, calm but also energizing, relaxed but also creative attentive to every detail but without feeling overwhelmed. It’s the opposite of how I feel when surrounded by urban concrete and automobiles. In the city, I feel ambition. I feel the energy of the place, but it can become too much. It’s distracting and, eventually, all the energy is burned off and exhaustion replaces it. I suspect most people experience this exhaustion as well, which is why when we vacation or look for refreshment we retreat to nature to wander in a garden, climb a mountain, or sit by the sea.
The beauty of a garden feeds us. She feeds us ripe little red tomatoes, sweet beans, and tart berries. She puts on her best decorations to delight us, flowers of every shape and size. A garden also nourishes the soul. She is like a mother, very gentle and very patient.She puts her finger to her lip and calls for a peaceful, golden silence. In that silence we are cradled. The beauty we find here is a beauty that speaks to us of a great and mysterious love.
If you need me, I’ll be in my garden.
Why gardening is so good for you
How to make your garden a Catholic prayer space