It started at a farmers market in downtown Carmel, California on our honeymoon: I bought a small echeveria succulent, fully expecting it to die within a few weeks after we got home. But it didn’t: the original and several cuttings that grew from it are still alive and well on our patio almost two years later.
I’d had plants before, but once I got married and moved into our apartment, I finally had my very own patio to fill with all sorts of leafy green things. From our first summer of being married, filling our small apartment balcony with herbs, succulents, a hibiscus tree, and a variety of flowers and vegetables every spring and summer has become a favorite hobby of mine.
Gardening is good for the soul
I gain so much more from tending to my plants than just some fresh basil for pizza, lemon balm and lavender for homemade tea, and pretty hibiscus blooms on summer mornings. Even though traffic rushes by a few hundred yards from our apartment complex, I feel peaceful as I water my cacti and Rabbit’s Foot fern. It’s relaxing to spend an evening planting jalapeño pepper seeds or repotting the alyssum that has grown too big for the clay pot it's currently in.
Sowing seeds, watering, pruning, waiting for and watching growth with plants and flowers is a strong metaphor for the spiritual life. But even when not speaking figuratively, tending to plants and gardening — whether it’s in a backyard or a small apartment patio — is so very restorative and altogether good for the soul.
In a world that demands our attention be focused on so many things at once, playing in the dirt on my patio — whether that’s re-potting a growing pepper plant or thinning out radish seedlings — invites me to live more fully in the present moment. When I step out onto my patio, the view beyond its confines certainly isn’t five-star, but it’s my little domain that I get to care for and be creative with. There are no deadlines to meet, no requirements to fill, no expectations — I just get to enjoy doing something for its own sake.
Gardening requires patience — and this is perhaps why it took me so long to begin to like it. This year I tried something new and planted all kinds of seeds instead of buying young plants from the hardware store. Some, I’ve found, take longer than others to germinate, sprout, and bloom. But it’s so rewarding when seeds you thought were dead or just not doing anything begin to poke through the soil!
Gardening forces you to set aside the tendency to want instant gratification and instead put on the virtue of patience because it all depends on waiting on something — nature — that is largely out of your control.
Create something beautiful
Gardening offers us a chance to appreciate the diversity of the created world and to take part in it. It offers us a chance to help create something beautiful — whether that’s an apartment patio oasis, a windowsill with a few succulents, or a large backyard garden. Regardless, gardening is a way to make a space your own — tending to plants can help you be a good steward of the space you have by helping make it beautiful.
And ultimately, beauty points to God. Who would have thought that a tiny suburban apartment balcony and a handful of seeds could do that?