The Spiritual Gardener: The Garden is Speaking to You

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The garden is speaking to you. Are you listening?

After about a month’s run, our cool, dry spring has now veered suddenly into a cool, wet spring, and we are having floods of rain every day this week, with short intermittent periods of mysterious damp and muffling fog.

And yet the garden goes on through its cycles. The azaleas (pictured above) are finishing, and the last to go are the simple pinks in the hedgerow and on the corner, with here and there the flares of some of their crazy scarlet cousins, still clamoring raucously for attention.

The rhododendrons are all going off just now too, adding their cool purples, mauves and creams to the general color stew of the landscape. About to bloom are the cream-colored, old-fashioned ones we have in this old garden; they are the kind you do not see much anymore, the ones with big clusters of small, finely formed flowers like cut and sewn old lace instead of the big, rather gaudy pompon flowers favored today. We have one of these in the hedgerow that is as big as a one-car garage, and it has never looked so prosperous and flourishing as it does now. Its bloom promises to be stupendous.

And the greens of the garden this year are fascinating: they are so varied, fresh and intense. Either my eyesight is becoming more sharp and discerning in my older age – unlikely – or the verdure this year is intensified by the odd combination of sustained cool weather, then weeks of dry, followed by soaking rains. In any event, the variegated hostas mix their cream and light greens with the brown-greens of the rhododendrons and the black greens of the yews, the red-greens of rose leaves, the true greens of bluebells, the dark greens of peonies, and on and on. Not to mention the lush broad greensward of the lawn, which only looks this deliciously healthy for these perfect few weeks in mid-spring, because we don’t use chemicals on it and stubbornly (frugally) refuse to put in sprinklers.

And speaking of the peonies, they have started their annual debutante ball, led off by the pinks and soon to be followed by the rivers of creamy whites, with here and there just a few already open.  I have been cutting a few pink ones each day to bring into the house before the rain spoils them, and inside I put just three of them in a vase with eight or ten variegated hosta leaves; there they unfold quickly to their full glory and just three blooms can take over a room visually and, more easily, with their heady perfume.

In a way it is a shame to have so much rain at exactly this time of year, when the garden is just entering its most glorious period, which it sustains for about a month, and for the middle two weeks of that it is at its absolute peak, when the irises, roses and peonies are all at their height simultaneously.  For us, in this garden, heaven.

In the porch bed, I have a growing colony of bold orange poppies blooming now next to a broad rivulet of bluebells and at one end of this, on a porch column, there is a deep indigo clematis; this gives the impression of a cascade of color down the porch and into the garden, where the acid orange clashes interestingly with the deep pastel pink of the nearby peonies. The white azaleas in the porch bed have now grown to a very great size, but the rain spoiled them a bit this year, and their blooming time was cut soggily short; they looked like bedraggled floats left out in the rain after the homecoming parade.

The great thing about them, totally unplanned by me, is that about half a dozen or so very hearty yellow iris blooms push up through the dazzling white cloud of azalea flowers, and the yellow iris blooms are superb with this backdrop.

The other irises are blooming well in the front yard, and I have kept a large vase of them in the kitchen, adding new stems every day and cutting off the spent blooms. Their perfume fills the kitchen as it always does, with its subtle grace. The irises in the crescent bed, in its most open and sunny part, are nearly four feet tall and are actually too tall to cut for the house, in their gigantism.

Several lupines are blooming strongly, and I love this connection with our former garden, where they came from. The columbines, also raised from seed gathered in our Colorado garden, have all come and largely gone, and were very fine this year; most of ours are maroon or purple and their colors perfectly selected themselves to go with the main colors in our crescent bed.

Of the roses, only the mauve rugosas are blooming so far. Work has been more than usually hectic lately, so much so that I come home each night exhausted and wondering how I can go on, and yet somehow one does, we all do. The alternative, not going on, is, after all, just too ghastly. The silver lining of this over-work in my daytime job is that each weekend is like a mini-vacation for me, and I have tried to maintain that feeling by not doing more work on the weekend than is absolutely necessary.

Two weekends ago, Mothers’ Day weekend, I got all the patio things up from the basement, planted the dahlias in their three big pots and vacuumed all the dirt, cobwebs and debris out of the basement. Then our son and I put on a barbecue for my wife on the patio, featuring giant prawns wrapped in bacon, and then grilled.

We have now lived here more than eight years and this house has never looked better, both inside and out. What a lot of work and love we poured into it in the last eight years; it has truly been a labor of love, very like our first house in Virginia which was also old, but this has been much bigger, much older and much more beautiful, we think.

So life is rather too full these days and one’s emotional cup runneth over rather easily, a state that seems to be reflected in the garden too — which is overflowing much more beautifully than I am with the stuff of life and far more effortlessly and gracefully too, on the whole.

Can the garden reflect the interior life of the gardener? Of course not, that is absurd. But can the interior life of the gardener reflect the garden? That is a far more subtle question for consideration.

A good gardener has very advanced faculties of sympathy and empathy, I think, so this is not so very far-fetched. I look at the garden and feel dark, cool, beaten down a bit by the storms of life and more than a little bedraggled, but with an inner resilience and persistent strength. I do not mean that our interior lives take on the emotional appearances of the garden, or that we come to resemble our gardens the way some people come to resemble their dogs, but rather that we selectively see and feel in the garden what we are seeing and feeling in ourselves.

These links of syncopation help form the bond between the interior gardener and the exterior garden and, in a very subtle way, these links help the gardener to see into himself and understand himself better. They help him to comprehend and accept the role he plays in the life around him and the never-ending cycles and rhythms of life that pulse through the garden, though him, and through us all. Possibly the garden is just a bit soggy, too…but likely there is more meaning than that in what the gardener sees around him, if he will but open himself to it.

The garden is speaking to you. About your interior self. Are you listening?


David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at