One cool day several years ago I had been sitting in the shade in our outdoor living room. This space is surrounded with flowerbeds. I was shivering a little, so I got up and lay on my back in the pea-gravel path between the main beds. The sun warmed me quickly, and shading my eyes with one hand I looked up to see the Bath pinks bobbing in the spring air against a deep maroon background of bloodgood maple. Some of the maple leaves were back lit brilliant red, while interior leaves were surprisingly green. Far above me towered the first shoots of the Cabbage Leaved Rudbeckia, soon to sprout blooms like tall brown Mexican hats. I nearly dozed off in the sun, stretched out like a cat. And thoughts wandered through my head...
While some plants are primarily for the eyes, some are made to pat. I can't resist giving tulip poplar leaves "five" as I pass them by. I had a Chinese holly which I had lovingly hand pruned to a jolly ovoid some three feet wide and two feet tall. It simple begged to be patted and hugged, and I spoke to it often ("Oh you FATTY!"). (I admit that I avoided patting it in bloom - it would then be full of honey bees.) The diminutive wild geranium "Biokovo" has dancing white blossoms with pink anthers. They require a light ruffling, like a gentle parental hand through a baby's hair. Blue fescue tussocks also seem to need a tousling.
And I believe that the plants are better for the handling and spoken word. I suspect that there is something almost shamanistic in having a green thumb, something that needs expression in word and gesture. God created great powers that move in the earth and sky - and these forces run through our veins and dancing motion. So too the quieter passions in the veins of plants, and their slow dance that is growth. Herds of sunflowers all grazing in one direction, like every herd of cows I've ever seen. The vibrant green shouting leap of tamarack trees, sunlit against a stormy spring sky. The trembling watery love affair of wind in aspens. Lines of pilgrim cedar trees, toiling toward some holy spot along ridges in pastures all over the eastern seaboard. Life. Plants may not be sentient, but their life draws a powerful response from some of their less rooted brethren - and I voice that response.
A bit loony? I suppose. I have loved the look and feel and name of certain brands of pencil. I have gazed in rapture at a certain early twentieth century stamp of Benjamin Franklin because it is the most perfect shade of orange my heart could wish. I have been on fire in the long golden light of the last moments of certain autumn days. I have had to remember to breathe when walking alone beside the green breakers of the sea.
And gardening, like painting, is a way for me to capture, to domesticate, some of that wonder. To plant lightning bolts in flower beds and raise them tenderly. This year Moomin Light has born the vast majority of the gardening burden here, keeping perennials alive through this drought, but I know that I will return one day to gardening as a chief means of expression, and a way of being with other living things, and in God's presence.