"Who loves a garden still his Eden keeps."
In one of the most remarkably out-of-character statements ever made in literature, sleuth and rationalist Sherlock Holmes said, almost whimsically: "Flowers are nature’s surest signs of Providence."
I am not sure what case he was handling at the time or whether by some stroke of fortune, he simply had a moment to smell the roses in an English country garden, but I do know that gardens are like outdoor altars where you can sit quietly and soak in life throwing off its winter garments and poking its head through the thawing Earth.
I come from a long line of Welsh and English gardeners. Though I grew up in Philadelphia, I can still remember the garden outside our back window and the return of the same turtle every year to a batch of high grass near the drain pipe. Even then, concrete walls and traffic notwithstanding, spring came as a joyful surprise every year, reminding me that all life seeks to move toward the light, if given half a chance.
There are some places this year where I imagine spring will come slowly: places like Iraq, or some of our own neighborhoods where dreams die and "life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly," as Langston Hughes wrote. But enough of broken dreams; hope rises every spring with the first sign of daffodils or the sound of a bat cracking from the nearby sandlot.
You can learn a great deal by sitting still near a garden. If nothing else, you will be able to refrain from causing other people more troubles. No wonder that Henry David Thoreau, sitting near his Walden Pond, could write: "I wouldn’t walk around the block to see the world blow up." He wouldn’t have to travel further than his television set these days to see the ceremony of innocence drowned in constant repetition of scenes from war.
There is something humbling about planting a garden, especially for a city slicker like me. You toss a few bulbs in before winter and, presto, without so much as lifting a shovel or rake, the green shoots come bursting out of the Earth, which had been so barren and cold for so long. Talk about the simple graces of life—nothing equals the sights of yellow and blue and red and orange sending their flares into the sunlight.
I also understand more why diversity is beautiful from studying my garden. The blue flowers do not say to the red, "Get out of here, this is our spot of the Earth!" The orange do not seize the green buds by the stems and try to toss them out of their space. The beauty of a garden is that each flower retains its uniqueness, but when joined together with others forms a patchwork tapestry of joy. Stand back a few feet when your garden is in full bloom and observe its majesty, just as marvelous as seeing the blue planet Earth from the distance of the moon.
There is an old proverb: "Many things grow in the garden that were never sowed there." That’s the really humbling part of growing a life or a garden. No matter how carefully you plant the seeds, a few weeds always manage to grow. You can’t control them any more than you can control the people around you. And, sometimes, even weeds add a touch of diversity to a flower patch or a crack in the city sidewalk.
Amid the sounds of bombs and planes and conflicts, a garden, like poetry, is simply news that lasts. And the news is good: Life renews itself. To that, we can all say, "Amen."