Off The Shelf:
Natural Landscaping: Gardening with Nature to Create a Backyard Paradise by Sally Roth
Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden: Creating Backyard and Balcony Habitates for Wildlife by Catherine Johnson.
The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore and History by Jack Sanders.
The best part of being on a Pagan path is that once you begin, you find that your life is filled with beauty and meaning. Nothing exemplifies that for me so much as my garden.
We have four acres now, some of it wild, some of it planted with the decorative plants and shrubs. The decorative plants are pretty, but useless. They give nothing back. And there you have it. Pretty is easy. But Beauty has depth and breadth, and a sense of Her own self. She connects with others and works for the common good. She fits, Beauty does, whereas Pretty preens and stalks and talks of nothing worth hearing. She goes from place to place, causing all kinds of havoc, wanting only to be noticed. Beauty gives. Pretty takes.
I was reminded of the uses of beauty when I toured a native plant garden here in Oregon. As we walked the ground with Lori, the owner, we talked to her about the dreams for our land. We live on a mountain now. We haven't been here very long and we want to do right by our local wildlife. With her good advice we choose some wildflowers that were right for our lower field. They will provide food and habitat for the creatures here, as well as color and scent for us; just the balance I was looking for.
Who Invited Them?
I could have just ordered a packet of seeds on line, but I know what I would get: a mix of some of the right seeds and many of the wrong ones. These would clutter my field, and my neighbors' fields, as well, with intrusive, useless non-natives. Such plants push out the natives and they would not feed the birds and animals here. They would, in fact, be harmful for our whole mountain. In a way, putting in the wrong plants is it's rather like choosing the wrong kinds of friends; they may look good at first, but the fallout later is huge, not just for you, but for everyone around you. You can spend years cleaning up the mess.
Mind you, I'm not a purist. I can have my decorative plants and my beloved herbs, as well. These have to be kept in their place, in pots and small fenced plots, so that they don't do any harm to these wild lands. They can add beauty, strength, and meaning to my life, as long as I am careful as to when, where, and how I use them. Using any kind of power is like that, be it natural or otherwise; you need boundaries, some knowledge and a bit of common sense.
I Can See It Now
Lori lives in a lovely old house near her nursery, and she invited us to see her bit of land to see what she had done over the years. I was gabberflasted. She has the most wonderful ponds and steams, rose scented corners, flowering meadows, and stately trees, as well as some charming alcoves for reading (jealous,jealous, jealous). Oh! for a duck pond, now that spring is here.
The kind of wild habitat I wish to make will take between 5 - 10 years to complete. (When I asked Lori how long it took her to build her own garden, she told me that it took 20 years.) When I am done, this place will be a sanctuary for the creatures here, and one for us as well. But I have a lot to learn. I'm working with new plants, new weather conditions, new soil and new wildlife, and I'm trusting that my hard work will make something wonderful. Once again, this experience reminds me of my spiritual practice. When we moved to Oregon I felt many of the same feelings of uncertainty and ignorance I experienced as someone new to Paganism. Some days you just has to "act as if" and trust that it will come to you. Most days, it does. I try and keep the greater good in mind, while living in the process, and I don't take the easy way out. OK, you caught me, some days I do choose the easier way, and then I pay the price for that, and start again.
A writer named Kari King calls this a "blesson", it is a combination of a blessing and a lesson. My garden is my blesson or, to paraphrase the poet it is A thing of beauty and a job forever. I welcome the work, and the quiet time, too, and I will remember to enjoy the view, when the day is over. My partner and I spent 13 years in the salt mines of Silicon Valley. We worked at demanding jobs by day, and did non-profit work for Full Circle and various animal rescue groups on our nights and weekends. Learning to stop and smell the very tea roses I had planted was my blesson from that hectic, fruitful time. I've brought that hard won wisdom with me to the Pacific Northwest. Woe to me if I forget it.
Like any Green Witch, I am closely tied to the land, and there are many days when I miss hiking in the California foothills or birding at the San Francisco bay. It's a palpable ache. Anyone who has lived in and loved two places will understand.
Among the things I miss is my little suburban garden in Northern California. It took me six years to build a bird and butterfly garden out of clay soil that hadn't been worked in decades. By the time I left it was a lovely, sweet smelling haven with a thriving population of birds, butterflies and bees. As Pratchett once said about Nanny Ogg, I was happy in a little place. Pick a time of the year, any time, and I can tell you what would be blooming there, and what my former neighbor's garden's are like, as well. For some reason, the universe has decided that I need to expand my horizons while becoming less involved with certain people, places, and things. Is making a new, wild garden from scratch a part of my spiritual path? For me, the answer is "Yes".
Little Altars Everywhere
The trick to any practice is to use what you have. One can be just as Pagan in an urban setting as they can roaming the glen. One can also create a small garden on a balcony and grow herbs in window pots. I know, because I've done that. It's all in how you use your space. That includes the space inside your head and heart, as well as the space you call your home.
So here's to beauty and meaning, where ever you may find it. But if I may make a suggestion, you might wish to take a walk in a garden. Better yet, build one yourself.
Art: This sculpture is titled The Goddess of Spring. It was a gift from Full Circle to Gaia's Oasis for hosting our wonderful Spring Staff Retreat in 2004. Gaia's Oasis is a beautiful retreat in the Sierra Foothills of California, not far from Yosemite. The Owners of Gaia's Oasis are careful to keep the wild lands they hold in trust healthy and thriving. If you ever have a chance to visit this wonderful place, by all means, do so.