In the shadow of the garden buddha

I recently stumbled upon this article:

38 Garden Design Ideas Turning Your Home Into a Peaceful Refuge (38 Pictures)

Thinking “wonderful, I love gardens, and I have a new space to consider, and I would like it to be a peaceful refuge! I’m in! Let’s go!” When I clicked through the photos, I had a severe negative reaction. I was further puzzled to discover that the comments were mostly positive! To me, these gardens mostly look like seriously crazy people live in these places, like a used guillotine might be in the back of the garden shed. A modern Louis says, “Marie, darling… can you bring me some more cake?” and one wonders about the ensuing domestic consequences. Few show any signs of personal involvement with the garden, or any signs that growth of any kind, in any direction, would be tolerated.

Hedge mazes? Chess boards made of cactuses? Peacocks made of begonias? Peaceful refuge? Really? What homes would these gardens be next to?

Is this about being at home as a part of the grand scheme of things, connected to nature and the earth under our feet, or being afraid of butterflies? Do these people know that there might be worms in the garden, eeeew!?

And what will these gardens look like without a dedicated team of daily snippers, mowers, and leaf picker uppers? What do you even wear to walk through these gardens? Flip flops, shorts and a T shirt? Not even the army of snippers would be allowed to do that.

My reaction to this stems from seeing an imbalance between work and home expressed in these photos. Some unmentionable extreme on the work side… Requiring some extreme static unmoving inorganic counterweight on the home side.

In Planning the Perfect Garden, the editors of Good Housekeeping wrote, “If you have limited time and energy for gardening, we suggest you plan a garden of size and content you can handle with pleasure.” In The Room Outside, John Brookes comments back in 1963, “As working life becomes more and more hectic and communal pleasures more varied, it seems more than ever essential that the individual and his family should have some place into which they can retreat; somewhere quiet where they have time to think, and can enjoy and refresh themselves,” and, from my point of view, here’s the point, where he goes on to say, “by re-establishing contact with nature.” In the garden, the gardener can re-establish contact with his or her own nature too. A garden is a place of personal action, something to do, offering a pleasurable connection to something bigger than one’s self, and not merely an object to have or something to look at out the window.

I bring this up also because I am leaving behind a garden that I have personally worked on for 20 years. This is not a landscaping project that arrived in a box in the mail one day. Rather, this garden is the gradual expression of time and my energy and consideration of what plants to put where. What is left is the result of many mistakes. Some plants withered into little brown shreds of stems, while others were eaten by rabbits, deer or ground hogs. Some plants thrived during these twenty years. They have filled in; and the garden has become lovely in ways I did not expect.

The garden also contains thoughts of my grandmother’s smile while she was watering the petunias. In the front yard, you will find my grandfather holding my hand, helping control the big Gravely tractor as I learned how to mow the lawn. Everywhere, are my mom’s encouraging words. She saw the garden, and she saw me in it, as beautiful, even when I felt like both the garden and I were a mess.

In twenty years, it has not just been the garden that has grown through work and rain. I am not the same person who started the garden by planting a star magnolia when my grandmother died. I am hardier and more resilient. Stronger roots. Respect for the passage of time and faith in the future has been mirrored back to me in the garden over many seasons. The star magnolia towers overhead now.

I wonder, if that kind of transformation will be possible if we are too busy to actually garden? Will we allow ourselves to explore the peaceful refuge to work quietly in the garden if we just jump to a “done” state? Many troubles can be transformed in the garden by liberal application of sweat and peat moss. What happens to our spirit if we do not allocate time to let limbs bend, to watch ants scurry out of the way, while thoughts wander more slowly?

This summer I am starting what feels like a whole new life, in a new house, in a new town, and a new garden. I have included the broken bird bath pedestal from my great grandmother’s garden, and brought along the garden buddha and his pet dragon from our old house, and a hundred year old peony transplanted from my mother’s garden, and a few hens and chickens to offer some comforting continuity. They will continue to watch over me, to offer suggestions, and to help me find words.

What would YOU do with a day off from school?!!!

Remember having a snow day? Or a teachers conference day? Unexpectedly, you got the news, “No school today!” Oh boy! The world of possibilities was open to more than sitting at your desk listening to the sound of chalk scraping along the blackboard, as birds chirped outside. Time to do a Snoopy Dance!

According to a recent psychology study, performed by researchers, Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University, adults who imagined a day off and imagined doing boring things, like chores or catching up on sleep, were less creative at solving a problem than those who let their 7 year old self imagine a day off from school to go play in the park with their bestest friends, or take a walk on the beach alone, or go find the biggest lollipops they could find!

So, if you need a boost to your creativity, lighten up and take a little time to think like a kid again. Play hookey in your imagination for a while and see if it brings a new spirit of adventure to the rest of your day.

It is really important to bring a bit of spontanaetity to your to do list every day, and to remember that your free time can be free time! You may not need a nap to catch up on sleep as much as you need an opportunity to explore and play!

And here’s the kicker, as a grown up with more resources and skills at the ready, you have more power to make things happen than you did as a kid. Open up to larger possibilities, and let your imagination go a little wild.

Furthermore, once you have given yourself the freedom to imagine a whole day off to ride on the back of an elephant, you might find that you don’t actually need that much time or the whole enchilada to act on the idea in a way that would still be completely fun and satisfying. What’s more, to go from imagination to action to do this, you will already be starting to think more creatively. Maybe at lunch time, you could go for a walk at the zoo and watch the elephants watch you.

The new experience and the fun of actually following through to do it then feeds back into the rest of what you do in your day. Later, chores like washing the dishes after supper, can become more fun if you are thinking about the elephant swishing his trunk around as you spray the soap from the plates. Tapping into your childlike creativity generates a cascade effect that will keep your other tasks flowing, too.

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Bringing up Bébé… Maybe I was raised French, too?

Nurturing acquired tastes…

I was listening to this NPR story about a new book called “Bringing up Bébé” by Pamela Druckerman, of her cultural observations about being an American mom living in France. The author tells Weekend Edition’s Rachel Martin that the idea for the book came to her in a sort of “epiphany” at a restaurant with her husband and her daughter, who was 18 months old at the time. She noticed that the French kids around her were just eating their meals, while her daughter refused to eat anything other than pasta and white bread. 

As I listened to this story, I was reminded of my own mom, who died last year, as well as all the stunningly sophisticated matriarchs in our family tree, and wondered if perhaps, my mom raised me to be French? It certainly would explain a few things. 

For instance, I remember clearly being in Los Angeles, as a kiddo of maybe 5 years old. My family went out to dinner one night at a fairly swanky restaurant. The waiter was astonished because I was quietly eating a salad with what he considered to be “grown up” blue cheese dressing. Not only that, he was flabbergasted that I was adding in a little extra pepper! Mon dieu! 

As far as I know, I never ate a typical kid’s meal at a restaurant. Certainly, I ate my fair share of PB&J, Cheerios, tuna wiggle and grilled cheese at home, if that was what was offered. I confess, I never much cared for the tuna wiggle. (Sorry, mom.) Although her “magic” spaghetti casserole with two kinds of olives was brilliant! I also ate my spinach and beans, and artichokes and brussel sprouts, vinegar, pickles, fish, all kinds of cheeses and… oh boy - bring on the garlic and spices!

Now, I get to preside over my own kitchen. I love to cook for friends and family. There are new little ones in our family who may come over for dinner one of these days, and I can’t imagine not offering them a taste of whatever we’re eating while they are visiting with us. Whatever it might be. Though, I wonder if they’ll put up a fuss, or comply with the cauliflower I might place before them on a plate. 

I haven’t read “Bringing up Bébé” yet, but I am really looking forward to it. I am likely to recall more of my mom’s ways of interacting with me as a youngster, and perhaps to discover how seemingly French my American family might have been! 

Bon Appétit! 

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