Gardener As Guardian, Scientist, Mystic And Artist

Gardening is often credited with being a mode of exercise, an opportunity for fresh air and fresh vegetables, and can build community.

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by Sarah Joplin

Picking beans the other day in the garden, the wind picked up ever so slightly as a light mist began to fall. This might have been the moment when those sunbathing or picnicking, easily enjoying the outdoors, would reach for their towel or umbrella and head indoors. Rather, as I stood enjoying the mist, facets of my gardening-self seemed to take hold.

My breath slowed and senses heightened to the natural world around me, no longer was I simply undertaking the task of harvesting ripe beans, but being lulled into deeper or higher realms by the shifting winds and airborne waters. With skin moistened by the drifting drops and lungs filled with humidified air, time slipped away as the grey skies held me suspended with my brethren the beans, vines and leaves. We all drank in the water and were freshened by such a delicious, ephemeral gift from above.

Gardening is often credited with being a mode of exercise, an opportunity for fresh air and fresh vegetables. It can be a method of building community. Its attributes are myriad and equally varied. Some, however, are not as conspicuous until you fully engage in the process.

person wearing gloves planting a sweet potato plant in soil


As a gardener, you become the front line of protection for your vigorous but fragile plants. You are, in effect, their guardian. Vigilant observation is vital for the plants to survive much less thrive. Among other things, you are tasked with knowing when the plants need water and when you become keenly attuned to your garden, there is no need to touch the soil to determine its moisture content. The plants’ fullness and color will tell you if, when and how much water is needed.

Paying careful attention to each plant also allows for early detection of any foul play! Hungry insects, viral or bacterial developments, molds and other assaults can be devastating to fragile greenery but a proactive garden guardian will fend off disaster with mitigating actions.

Discovering insects in their larval stages and noticing signs of chewed stems or wilted leaves before the problem overtakes the plant allows for strategic defense. Pruning such plants, killing young insects or spot spraying can be effective remedies. The same goes for other plant pathogens.

a bean sprouting in soil


Sometimes issues are more complex or even invisible and must be approached from a scientific stance. Struggling plants may be suffering from pH imbalances or nutrient deficiencies in the soil. Research or knowledge of such issues becomes necessary to steward the garden back to health. Soil samples may need to be taken and analyzed and soil amendments made.

The realms of companion planting, planting density, and plant biology come into play. The left-brain is a sharp tool in the garden for solving issues analytically, methodically, scientifically.

Stepping back and broadening the perspective to a naturalist’s framework can provide even more insights for effective gardening. Noticing patterns and interconnections with other parts of nature can shed new light on challenges in the garden. It turns out that many successful gardeners are also good scientists.

yellow farm house on a foggy morning


And then we circle back to the bean picking. Deep breaths and presence of mind are commonplace in the garden and remind me that gardens can be places of meditation and relaxation. They can be altars where we commune with Spirit and ancestors.

Gardens can bring forth our animal instincts as we attune to acute changes in temperature, wind direction, light and shadow. Insights dawn in the quiet mind when the hands are busy mulching, pruning, watering, and picking. Subconscious reflections and insights can spontaneously arise while transplanting or fertilizing. The garden offers itself to our inner mystic.

close up of yellow squash blossoms


As we undertake the productive tasks of plant cultivation, gardening also brings out our artistic sensibilities and sense of wonder as we design and envision garden plantings and then delight in seeds bursting forth and coming into glorious bloom. Colors compel us, textures enthrall us, shapes and patterns inspire and uplift us. The garden becomes a canvas onto which we co-create a painting with the natural world. It is the loom which weaves the threads of vines and stalks. It is a kaleidoscope of buds, flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Leaves like hands unfurl, opening to make their offerings. Unlikely volunteer plants sprout as we show faith in our planting and tending, trusting that harvest will come and our relationship with the garden, in all of its facets, given all of our roles and the time and energy we invest, will nourish us through and through.

Sarah Joplin is a mid-Missouri farmer at Redbud Farm. Though she enjoys travel, speaks French and is involved in an art business in California, Sarah is equally happy homemaking and getting her hands in the dirt.

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