This weekend I spent much time in prayer, meditation, and writing. Thoughts of the time I spent working at St. Benedict Center in Madison, Wisconsin came to mind. It’s a monastery located north of Madison, located on the most beautiful piece of land with an unforgettable view of the capitol. At that time, there was an ecumenical retreat and conference center there and I worked as the sales person and coordinator of events. My decision to work there had a lot to do with finding balance in my life between family, work, and my own spiritual path.
The Benedictine Way
The monastery and retreat center are located on 130 acres of land. The Benedictine way includes balance and having a reverence for the land, so it only natural that their stewardship includes a position of prayer and healing for the earth. Guests and employees both were encouraged by the Benedictine sisters at the monastery to explore the land, appreciate the beauty and expressions of god everywhere, and to just “be present” while there.
On the south side of the property, just west of the monastery was a piece of land set aside for garden plots. As a part of the Benedictine community, whether as a member or employee, a garden plot was available. Having a love for the earth but never a garden for myself, I was excited about creating my own secret garden, away from the stresses of the “so-called real world” most of us live in.
‘The Business of Gardening’ vs. ‘The Art of Gardening’.
As an inexperienced gardener, I began hoeing my 20′ x 20′ garden plot in June, which was full of weeds. I enjoyed working the ground and weeding during my lunch hours and after work. My garden neighbors were a retired couple who had been working a very large plot for many years. They knew what they were doing and it was as though they were running a business – equipment was rented, they worked together every day tilling, fertilizing, creating rows, watering, planting, weeding, etc. They knew what they were doing. I was clueless and as far as I was concerned, the only rules in gardening were to plant, water, weed as you go, love what you are doing, and enjoy the bounty of your harvest.
While my neighbors had a beautiful garden with straight and uniform rows, I decided to hoe a corner triangle and plant something in it. The next day I would hoe another triangle, circle, or rectangle, plant something in it, and move on to the next. I stomped the dirt down between my sections to make a path for walking. My garden looked like a piece of mosaic art work, at least through my eyes. When I got tired of hoeing, I tossed wildflower seeds in the remaining sections of my plot. Lazy, yes, but I didn’t want my garden to stress me out.
One day in early July…sometime around July 4, I went to my garden on the weekend to water and weed it. While I was there, my garden neighbors were tending to their beautiful and bountiful garden plot. It was the “business of gardening” for them. They watched as I walked up to the hill with my watering can to fill it at the monastery, walk back down to water, then repeat this over and over. This was part of the process of my garden journey, but to them, it was silliness.
After many trips of filling my watering can, the couple came over to my garden plot. It was evident by the expressions on their faces that I was failing and decided to share some of their wisdom with me by telling me what I was doing wrong. I was told that I should be planting in rows, using a hose for watering, and that you cannot grow lettuce or spinach in July. I remember that we stood there looking at my garden and I realized that it was wild – beautiful in my eyes, a disgrace in theirs. Who would’ve thought there would be an issue of “Curb Appeal” in a community garden space? And yet, I had spinach and lettuce that needed to be picked because it was ready – in July. Maybe my crop was not bountiful like my neighbor’s had been in June, but there it was – alive and ready to go home with me.
The tomatoes were so abundant I was constantly giving them away to friends. My wildflower garden provided beautiful bouquets for my office, my co-worker’s desk, and a couple of retreat rooms throughout the summer. I provided my plants with what they needed to grow, survive, and thrive – water, sunshine, breathing space (weeding), and blessings of love. These are all things we need to survive. So “Reverence” as the theme of this 15th day of “64 Days of Non-Violence” is appropriate not only for the land and the Benedictine Way of Life, but for our children, family, friends, strangers, and ourselves.
A Garden Plot for Life
Just before I left the monastery, the Prioress, Sister Mary David, called me on the phone and told me that she was sorry I was leaving. She added, “You have a garden plot for life here.” What a wonderful confirmation that I was accepted and recognized for having reverence. I wonder if she remembers that. No matter, it’s unlikely that I will be back in Wisconsin planting a garden.
Last year I planted a garden in southern Utah…twice. The first time nothing came up. I went to the local nursery and asked for help. A man asked where I was from then reminded me that southern Utah is a desert and that my garden would need a lot of water. He told me that when I think I watered it enough, water it more. My second attempt at a garden happened with some success – things came up, tomatoes appeared. Although I read about squash bugs on Ali’s Organics blog, I didn’t take the time to kill them. They won.
I have an appreciation for small and container gardens, as well as farmer’s markets and places like Ali’s Organics. Start small and fill in with those who know what they are doing – especially when you know they garden with love. It just tastes different.
St. Benedict Center is now Holy Wisdom Monastery and still holds retreats. They are located at 4200 County Road M in Middleton, Wisconsin. 608.836.1631.
Ali’s Organics is an adorable little garden supply business located near Zion National Park and St. George, Utah. It’s a great place to buy fresh produce, as well as gardening supplies and is located at 241 North 380 West in LaVerkin, Utah. 435.200.4769.