Up Front and Personal

Anticipating Spring by Thinking of Gardens

by Veronica Szczygiel

I’ve been thinking a lot about gardens lately. Maybe that’s because it’s wintertime, and all you can do in a garden is watch and wait. Everything is out of your control. Sure, you can prune back a few branches here, spruce up the trellis there. You can collect the fallen autumn leaves that blanket the soil to keep it warm. You can organize seed packets, shovels and spades. But otherwise, you wait. Every day, I look at my backyard and imagine the magic occurring deep beneath the soil, anxiously awaiting the moment new life sprouts out again.

Gardens have mesmerized humans for centuries. Ever since ancient times, they have been featured in wealthy estates and public spaces (think: the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the gardens at Versailles). They have captured the attention of artists and writers. Recently, I’ve inundated myself with gardening literature: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “My Neighbor Totoro” by Tsugiko Kubo based on the original story by Hayao Miyazaki, and “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life” by Marta McDowell. Each affords a unique lens on the restorative power of the garden.

Having tilled the soil, planted bulbs and coaxed vegetables, herbs, and fruit trees into fruition ever since childhood in my own Brooklyn backyard, I have witnessed and experienced the wonder of gardens in each season. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as working in the garden all day until your back is soaked in sweat and your nails are creased with soil. This labor, for me, is a spiritual one.

Gardens offer respite, a piece of paradise in our bustling lives when we can retire and watch the tulip close after a long day of basking in the sun, or an orb-weaver spider build its symmetrical architectural masterpiece, and reflect upon the magnificence of our Creator. Whether the garden is three acres big or three feet long by three feet wide, the effect is the same: a patch of green offers emotional stability and a bit of silence to think. And, more importantly, to pray.

It’s no wonder that the Adam and Eve story takes place in a garden verdant with splendor and ripe with blossoms and edible delights. And with Lent fast approaching, it’s no wonder that Jesus chose a garden (Gethsemane) to pray. He sought clarity, comfort and reassurance from His Father. What better place to do so than the stillness of a garden.

I think gardens are valued because they are spaces where nature and humans work together to reveal the beauty of the earth. If you do not have access to your own garden, take the time to visit one. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of my favorites, and it just opened up a new water garden.

Alternatively, try cultivating a windowsill garden. Cacti, succulents, philodendron, jade and herbs like basil are particularly easy to care for. Even that little bit green will go a long way to paving a way for peace and prayer in your heart.

Szczygiel is a member of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish, Greenpoint.