Over the weekend, we put in twenty-four blueberry bushes along the edge of the cliff that borders our backyard. In preparation, a few days before, Ethan had rented a tiller and turned the soil over, adjusting its pH and adding peat moss for drainage; our weekend task was to install the irrigation system and dig twenty-four little holes for the plants, which had arrived on Friday from Nourse Farms in a big cardboard crate. Little frozen bundles of rootball wrapped in plastic, each with a few greening twigs poking out.
A visiting friend (fortunately a good sport about being conscripted into projects like this one) helped us, and we nattered while we worked, so our gardening process wasn't as meditative as the gardening that Karen of Kinesis describes. Even so, I came away reminded of the leap of faith gardening necessarily entails. We just spent a fair chunk of change, and a good portion of our time, establishing a strip of soil at the edge of our yard. Today that strip is a border of mulch punctuated by sticks. But we will water those sticks and care for them, in hopes of cultivating a hedge -- which, by next summer, might produce fruit. Gardening is a longterm project. And it’s grounding: it roots me in our soil alongside the lavendars and the lupine and now these wee future blueberries.
Gardening has a lot in common with religious life. If one is going to be a committed gardener, one needs to learn to enjoy the regular round of watering, weeding, fertilizing, pruning. Abundance can be encouraged, and it's unlikely to arise without some work on our part, but it requires a dash of something ineffable, too. And as involvement in my tradition trains me to see a spark of holy potential in everything I encounter, good gardeners learn to see the promise of fecundity even in the pepper-specks of seeds.
A surprising number of my favorite poets seem to be gardeners. In Jane Kenyon's poem "February: Thinking of Flowers" I see a fundamental optimism, hope for spring's return despite winter's frozen ground. Wendell Berry captures this, too, in his poem "The Man Born to Farming," in which he describes the gardener who "enters into death/ yearly and comes back rejoicing," who "has seen the light lie down/ in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn." Though I don't share Berry's (or, for that matter, Kenyon's) connection with the Christian story of resurrection, I too see gardening as a kind of training for a life imbued with faith in things unseen. Fruit may spring from the unlikeliest beginnings, if we take (or make) the time to nurture what grows.