Blog Post · Spirituality and Philosophy

Lessons from the Garden

Apart from my interest in folk music, I also love gardens. No so much the tame and manicured, but the rambling and full of life. Spring is one of the most beautiful times of year here in ‘cold-climate’ Australia, The irises are just finishing and the roses are in their first bloom. Fruit is starting to appear on the peach, plum, apple and pear trees.

I don’t pretend to be a spiritual nature guru, or a re-discoverer of ancient Druidic wisdom, but I feel that part of the answer to the question of a good human existence stems from our observation and understanding of the cycles of nature.

Two lessons in the garden this week are about judgement, patience and proximity. A stone-fruit tree of an un-known variety self-seeded by the chicken house about four years ago. Each year that it didn’t fruit my wife would suggest that it should be pulled up and replaced. I insisted that it be given another year to establish itself. Today I discovered one nectarine on the tree; enough to ensure its continued existence in the garden and confirm that some trees, and some people, just need a little longer to fruit.

Similarly, I was about the pull up the Ash sapling that I had planted two months ago because the apple trees that had been planted at the same time were already covered in leaves. Despite appearing lifeless, the leaves on the Ash just started to open last week, saving the tree from a premature and un-necessary death. I see this problem so often in parenting and in schooling, where children are compared to others in their year and judged against an irrelevant average or ‘high bar’. Each person is unique and grows at their own, different, pace. The only thing that enforced conformity achieves is false confidence in the early and false shame in the late.

Each tree interprets the signs given in the temperature of the air and soil, the rainfall, the frost and the sunlight and decides when to expend the energy required to sprout leaves. Some plants, like roses, can even have two or three attempts if the first is the victim of frost, mould or predators. As people, I don’t think we are any different. We each are suited to do things in our own way and our own time. Treatment that makes one person thrive, will make another wither.

I recently watched the film The Last Shaman, by Raz Degan, which followed the journey of a young man to South America in search of healing from depression through traditional medicine (including Ayahuasca). Whether accurate or not, the film leads viewers to the conclusion that pressure from an over-achieving father and mother was probably the cause of the situation. Bizarrely, this film, which I really enjoyed, has no Wikipedia page and has been slammed by Rotten Tomatoes. It could be the fact that the film points to the American Psychology treatment culture being largely ineffective; a very unpopular opinion in a country where billions is spent on medicating people for mental health issues. Normally this view would be dismissed as Scientologist style pseudo-science, but the parents of the subject of the film (described as a documentary) are both medical doctors and both criticize the psychiatric industry from a position of authority. If people have a mental illness and medication or electro-shock treatment has helped them live a life that they would otherwise not be able to, I think that is great. In the situation described in The Last Shaman, however, those methods hadn’t succeeded, and appear to have done more harm.

One theme in the Last Shaman that I found particularly fascinating was the way in which the traditional users of Ayahuasca (see this great JP video for an overview) say that the spirit of the plant spoke to them and told them the process for preparing it. Unfortunately, when I walk through my garden none of the plants speak to me, at least not in a way that I can understand as speech.

The second lesson from the garden is based on the reason for moving my raspberry canes away from the blackberry canes. For the past four year we have had magnificent crops of blackberries and almost nothing from the raspberries, despite both plants sharing the same spot along a wall and being almost the same species. I can’t find anything official, but the home gardener ‘vibe’ seem to be that you shouldn’t plant them together. It could be that when two similar things share a space, one has to shine and the other retreat. I think this is true about human relationships as well, we each influence those around us and it bears thinking about whether, in our ambition, we are dimming the lights of others. Similarly, if we are amongst people that are only interested in themselves, it might be time to find a new spot in the garden.

I will leave you with two favourite gardening songs, this one by Karine Polwart and my own cover of Dave Mallet’s excellent Garden Song.





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