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Posts from the ‘Spirit of gardens’ Category

Wildly romantic

Last weekend was a treat for the gardener – an escape from late summer pruning and clearing up, preparing raised beds and chucking compost about – with a diversion into a wildly romantic garden in the northern city of Alexandria…  Read more

“Fragrance blooms on pear wood bones”

Sun and moon divide the sky,

Fragrance blooms on pear wood bones:

Earth wakens with a sigh.

Wanderer revels on the path alone.

Tomorrow is World Festival of Poetry Day*, and for the occasion I’ve chosen to look at one of our most beautiful fruit trees: the pear. She is beautiful because she is currently in full flower, and because her tall stately shape delights with a surprisingly slender and discreet presence in our tiny orchard.

The pear does not stand up and whack me in the face like the untidy guava, with branches bending all over the place, nor does she shred my hands and arms when I approach her like the lemon/limes. There’s no need to feel wary when you approach a pear tree!

Meanwhile, the plum tree nearby is also blooming:

This is the lighter plum: the other, dark red plum, which is normally the first fruit tree to bloom in our garden, almost completely failed to flower this spring. Frustratingly I can’t identify any of the varieties as every single tree came without labels. As you may recall, with one we famously didn’t even know what kind of tree we had until it produced fruit – kumquats.

As I do my rounds checking how the trees are every day, I get the impression that our bees are spoilt for choice. They simply don’t know quite where to start! The orange tree is always a good option:

Orange blossom and bee

It would be nice to think that we may have orange blossom honey later on, but the reality is that it will be well mixed with borage, rosemary, rocket, broad bean, dill and possibly nasturtium flavours too. Do the bees have a favourite among all these? My observation is that rosemary is perhaps the main attraction but rocket runs it a close second. The borage is popular, but tends to be a quick stop as the flowers are small and well spaced: sort of take-away food “on the run”!

In sum, I think the garden is the finest way to celebrate poetry: It is a living poem in itself, ever-changing, never still for a moment, yet fascinatingly in harmony. Each morning there are new blossoms, soft tender shoots, seedlings bursting upwards through the soil. The effect on the soul is magical.

In their wonderful book “The Secret Life of Plants“, Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird explored how much we really have in common with them: “Plants are living, breathing communicating creatures, endowed with personality and the attributes of soul …..bridesmaids at a marriage of physics and metaphysics”. Tomorrow morning’s garden round will be done with especial regard for my beautiful companions, the balm of my soul.

* Poem from “365 Tao, Daily Meditations” by Deng Ming-Dao

* World Festival of Poetry, as noted in my Italian Kitchen Calendar for 2017, which is a mine of information about gardening, fruit cultivation, cultural matters and poetry.

*”The Secret Life of Plants” by Tompkins and Bird, published by Harper



Sanctuaries: from Assisi to Egypt

Writing about western Christianity’s monastic orders, Diarmid MacCulloch has highlighted the centrality of nature – and of gardens – to the practice of contemplation and silence:

The Carthusians had chosen to make a myriad of little paradises out of the enclosed individual gardens cultivated by their hermit-monks. The Carmelites, by contrast, remembering their mountain-wilderness, saw paradise in nature unspoilt by fallen humans.*

Throughout history there has been an intimate connection between nature, whether tamed or untamed, and the spiritual life. From rishis in forest ashrams in ancient India, to the close associations of gods and goddesses with the natural world in Egypt (e.g. the goddess Nut with the sacred sycamore tree), through to monastery gardens wherever Christianity appeared, the idea of finding sanctuary in nature has been an enduring theme.

And in our frenetic modern world, what better place to find our own sanctuary than in a quiet, well-planted garden with birds and insects for company as we collect our thoughts and spend time in quiet contemplation? Or, come to that, in a walk in the woods following in the footsteps of S. Francis?

On my recent travels, I have encountered some beautiful examples:

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From St. Francis surrounded by the thornless roses that are said to grow only in the garden of the Porziuncula Oratory close to Assisi, to the gentle atmosphere of the hermitage in the woods above the town; to the quirky garden of Andre Heller on the western shore of Lake Garda, its slopes planted with everything from bamboo groves to citrus fruits, the happy marriage of spiritual contemplation and nature’s generosity is inspirational.

In Egypt, the connection is still present, but you may have to search for it. First among the places I would turn to is the monastery of S. Antony, close to the Red Sea south of Ain Sokhna. Here you find a community of monks who cultivate a traditional garden featuring date palms, vines and a variety of vegetables such as onions and salad leaves:

S Anthony's Egypt
In the C4, Saint Antony’s main preoccupation was to get away from the crowds of enthusiastic followers who were flocking to him. Originally, he sought sanctuary in this lonely spot, choosing a cave half-way up the escarpment behind the monastery. I don’t suppose a garden was a priority for him, but it has developed along with the community of monks as a way to survive.

Finally, I would add it goes without saying that if you seek spiritual enlightenment in a holy place – a sanctum – you may encounter the unexpected. You might even meet an angel…

Angel, Assisi 5.16

Outside the church of Sa. Chiara, an angel alighted: Assisi, May 2016.


*See Silence: A Christian History by Diarmid MacCulloch published by Allen Lane, 2013

Written for the WordPress Daily Prompt, 25/7/16

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