Revd Helen Kempster writes
April 2020 was the sunniest April on record while April 2021 is, so far, one of the coldest. Spring is unfolding cautiously and frost can still catch us gardeners out. Some of you will know that gardening is one of my favourite things. And there is nothing better, after a hard day’s work, than sitting down in the garden with a party of friends. Some years ago one of my friends, sitting with a glass of wine in the dusk while my garden was at the height of its summer beauty, remarked regretfully that the nature of his job meant that he could never make a lovely garden as he has to move house every few years. I thought about this because, although in some ways a garden can take a lifetime to create, in another way it is new every year. It is perfectly possible to make a garden in a single year. TV makeover teams do it in a few days.
My last garden had been tended for 125 years. I would have loved to have known
what plants were grown in it over a century ago. When we sold it to its new owners the
current layout had taken us 18 years to create and was the fourth garden I had known
on the site. When I saw it again, it had become a mess of a building site and half of it
was disappearing under a huge extension to the house.
Our current garden is considerably larger than the old one. This is a younger garden than our previous one and has only been tended for about 50 years. Two sets of previous owners had not looked after the garden but, three owners ago, someone spent a lot of time and money having it landscaped and planted with some rare and expensive shrubs. So we uncovered exciting surprises as we cleared the undergrowth.
It was only after that chance remark made by my friend, when I was thinking how much he was missing by not being a gardener, that I realised there is quite a lot of prayer tied up in my gardening. There is the thanksgiving for creation, thanksgiving for the glory and splendour of the colours and the freshness and perfection of each plant. There is thanksgiving for the miracle of growth, of seeds to flowers and cuttings to plants. There is 3 the sheer spine-tingling thrill and wonder of watching things grow. There is the sense of being at one with the growing things, being part of the cycle, a microcosm of the macrocosm. There is the sense of being part of a very long history. My old garden had only been tilled since 1886 and my new one has hardly been tilled at all, but people have tilled the soil and tended their plots for many thousands of years.
Best of all is the knowledge that gardens feature quite a lot in the Bible. Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. His tomb was in another garden and it was here that Mary Magdalene met Jesus after his Resurrection when she thought he was the gardener. The book of Genesis tells us the Lord God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening breeze.
My garden is for me a place of refreshment and peace where I can work quietly alongside the wonder of creation or sit in prayer at dawn or dusk while the air around is full of birdsong. I know just what Cardinal Newman meant when he wrote, “By a garden is meant mystically a place of spiritual repose, stillness, peace, refreshment and delight”.
Sitting or walking in a garden to say one’s prayers or to meditate is a lovely way of responding to the clear message of Jesus, demonstrated by his choosing to withdraw regularly, sometimes with his closest friends, into a natural setting to focus on his communion with God. In a quiet garden, or in our beautiful and peaceful churchyard at All Saints, we can see the creative hand of God at work drawing us to places where we can recharge our batteries and rediscover our true path.