Room for the Snake

You asked me why I garden. I replied it is a miracle that I do. And even more of a miracle that I enjoy it. I come from a long line of gardeners who taught me about the hard work but none of the pleasures. That was left for the garden herself to teach me.

Let’s face it. It’s not for the faint hearted. Someone once said you don’t garden to get in shape. You have to be in shape to garden.
You can get all the weight-bearing exercises you need right outside the door without paying a membership fee. The price of admission is a willing heart and a strong back.


Just lifting those 40 pound bags of manure and top soil out of the trunk of the car is one thing. Getting it to where it will do the most good is a whole other thing. Then there’s the digging in; all good aerobic exercise, both for the soil and your self.

And just don’t let me loose with a credit card in a nursery. Interesting term that – nursery. I never thought of myself as the nurturing kind; but present me with a bedraggled orphan of a plant and I go all soft and gooey.  

In spring when those trusting little sprouts blink up at you from their bed of fallen brown leaves.  Who could resist that? It is like welcoming old friends who you feared might have died. But here they are, safe, sound and renewed from their long nap; bursting to show you what they can do.

I know each leaf, I know each stem and I know all their names, their likes and dislikes. Give this one a little more water, that one some lime. The kid in the corner; she likes to cool her heels so insulate her roots from the sun.

In summer the warm soft belly of my garden is so welcoming that I can’t keep my hands off her. Barehanded I rid her of weeds, dig in more manure or lime, quench her thirst with rain from my barrels.

But it’s more. It is the feel of doing something forbidden, being a naughty kid again, wallowing in the dirt and digging right in there barehanded. It’s daring. Get some dirt in your hair and on your face and don’t give a damn who sees you licking the salt off your upper lip.

And I like the mystery of it. If I am pretty sure I didn’t plant something in that spot; if I can’t identify this little bit of green as any particular weed I let it grow. I give it time to strut its stuff before I make any rash decisions. Thanks to the winds, the birds and the squirrels I have been the recipient of some very interesting floral gifts.

I have just begun to create a healing garden. I can feel my face going a little pink as I admit to you that many of the tender plantlets I drove several hours to find, buy, bring home and tend to have grown up to resemble the ones that I had been taught to (and spent years doing so) eradicate!

How about the wonderful world of vegetables? As I take my morning walk about I marvel at how my 

worm compost has turned these uncertain teenagers into blossoming young adults.  I am concentrating on heritage plants as frankly the genetically improved ones scare the be-jeepers out of me.

As for the spiritual side of gardening this poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney says it well:
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
You're nearer to God in a garden than any place else on earth.

I give free reign to my creative side in the garden. For the price of putting my shoulder to the wheel barrow and my back into the shoveling I can change my little world. Maybe I want it flat, maybe I want a hill, a waterfall, a pond, a Japanese garden. All it takes is a little inspiration and a whole lot of perspiration.

My garden is an extension of me. We are a team.  I just provide the venue, and the drinks. The garden does the rest.  The flowers dress in their best, splash on some perfume and put on a great show for the onlookers. The veggies provide the fuel.  And if we do well we can bask in the glow of the compliments we win.  

All gardens are mirrors of those who tend them. I like to imagine their gardeners. Are they bold and fun-loving? That harlequin mix of purples and yellows and oranges says yes.  Does a pale pastel palette reflect a conservative and contemplative gardener? This one is surely well-organized with everything marching in precise rows and pruned into matching shapes? Or are they wild and crazy with flowers and grasses and green peppers all making an exuberant stew. That weedy, neglected one has a gardener who may be depressed or unwell.

I would like to think that my garden 

says I am energetic and caring. Fun-loving and carefree but still a thoughtful guardian of our earth and our fellow travelers. That I am a gardener who makes rooms for the snake as well as the snapdragon, the wasp as well as the nettle.

These words written by Canadian author and artist, Emily Carr are inscribed on her

Jane Brunton produced this at the watercolour workshop.

tombstone. They so eloquently express how I feel about the great big garden that belongs to all of us.

Dear Mother Earth!
I think I have always specially belonged to you. I have loved from babyhood to roll upon

 you, to lie with my face pressed right down on to you in my sorrows. I love the look of you and the smell of you and the feel of you. When I die, I should like to be in you uncoffined, unshrouded, the petals of flowers against my flesh, and you covering me up.

Jane Brunton


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