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Garden Rituals: Action with Meaning

Giving birthday gifts, singing "Auld Lang Syne," saying the pledge of allegiance.... rituals are actions we do to express our values; to help us pay attention to the important things in life.

In the garden, often the point is simple attention: to the plants, the earth, the whole natural world we get disconnected from so easily. Sitting in my comfortable chair, just gazing around. Walking around the garden to see what's happening, even when I don't have time to work. One garden writer calls this "doing rounds," like a doctor in a hospital—but to me it's more like taking the time to say hello to friends.

Talking to my plants: asking them questions and listening for the answer, too. Sometimes the reply comes from watching their behavior, sometimes it comes as a voice I seem to imagine. We don't have any other way—besides "imagination"—of describing this experience, in our understanding of reality; but the older, earth-centered cultures used shamanistic methods like this routinely. I mostly ask my plants how they're doing, but I've asked the garden as a whole about dilemmas in my life (and gotten good advice).

Many garden rituals focus on the joy of sharing Earth's beauties: sitting with a friend in the garden, passing along special plants (the way to keep something, is to give it away).

Simple, repetitive, rhythmic garden tasks (that to a non-gardener might look boring) make great rituals: watering, weeding, deadheading... and my favorite, screening the compost. On my garden cart I set the wooden frame holding half-inch screen; I plop a few shovelfuls of compost on the screen (also called a riddle) and sit in front of it with a trowel in hand and two buckets beside me. Carefully I break up the clumps and pull the compost across the screen, lifting the worms out before I start rubbing the compost thorugh the screen. Worms go in one bucket, along with a little compost to keep them cool. In the other goes trash that doesn't belong in the soil. This task consumes a lot of time, but I come away feeling renewed.

My favorite rituals are playful, for celebration. Pinwheels stuck in my garden on April Fool's Day. The path through the garden of Emma Wojcuilewicz, in West Townsend: cement painted a bright, robin's-egg blue. At 90, she's planning to repaint it soon. Talk about renewal!

© Copyright 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 12 March 2004

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