A healthy colony of California native Fairy lanterns delineates the back garden from the natural slope of John's Canyon Creek homestead. These geophytes are endemic to California, and are very clear about the environments in which they will and won't grow. We all have boundaries and limits.
"Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.” – Niels Bohr
At our most basic, we are all energy. And we all have energetic boundaries.
People have them, animals have them, plants have them, spaces and seasons (of the year, of the moon, of life) have energetic fields and boundaries to these fields. Gardens certainly have them.
At their simplest, our invisible energy fields have edges that demarcate for us the lines between you and me, between here and there, between public space and private space - and they tell us when two or more energies overlap, interact, alchemically blend in harmony, or run into one another in sharp conflict.
To determine your own energetic field and its edges - pay attention to them - what is too far away? What is too close? What is uncomfortable in terms of how close another person or thing is in proximity to you? Where and when is your energy field high or low? Where is your energy and its edges fluid?
Some people's and some plant's energies are higher, richer, sweeter and more resonant to us. Some have boundaries that are wider than others, some are smaller or with some people at some times they are smaller.
I like these kinds of concepts - I am a believer in the different energies available to us during different seasons (the sap rising and the hillsides greening right now is an energy of such powerful growth and potential), different cycles of the moon and even different moments along our ancient circadian rhythm. I notice my own changes in energy and boundaries over different phases of life (for instance the period of life in which we carry and deliver and then care for our young is a very specific energy and it allows very few energetic boundaries between you and your little ones. It was both magic and exhausting to have such porous boundaries....) As I get older, I am ever more aware of the different energies brought into a space by both people and plants - and I am very aware of the energy of a garden.
You know a loved and caring/cared for garden, a garden in a healthy give and take relationship with its gardener and with the world, when you see it, smell it - when you walk into its energy field and you feel it. It's never a function of messy or tidy, fancy or simple - it's a matter of the energy embodied in the space.
Do you know what I mean?
A single fairy lantern in the colony showing more clearly the subtle but lovely shading and markings on the petals. Perhaps boundary markers for pollinators?
I'm thinking about this a lot right now because for the past month or so my tiny little front garden courtyard has been in upheaval and disarray. I am getting ready for a small wooden arbor to be constructed in place over the small square. This disarray has thrown me off, grated at me and irked me daily.
This little "courtyard" is maybe 5 feet by 5 feet. The space faces due south with a view down the road and into an expansive grassy meadow and then in the far (far) distance a small mountain range (the world's smallest mountain range, in fact, according to the local assertion). To the east, the little courtyard is flanked by an exterior wall of the garage and to the west by a walkway to the front door and an exterior wall of the house itself. The south flank of the space is my office with large windows looking out into the space and to the layered view beyond. This view is in no way impressive. But still, it is a gentle visual connector between me sitting at my desk enjoying my close view of the courtyard and my far view of the wider world. It was this connective line of sight - and meaning - that endeared me to the house in the beginning.
Have you ever read the work of Julie Moir Messervy? I enjoy all of her work, but her early work entitled "The Inward Garden - Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning" (Little, Brown & Co, 1995) was formative to me when I started my first garden. So formative that when I first launched Cultivating Place in 2016, Julie was the second carefully chosen interview for the program. This past month, by chance, I was able to meet up with Julie and hear her speak at Colonial Williamsburg's annual Garden Symposium. Julie was the keynote speaker.
I listened to her review some of her signature concepts, including a structure of 7 archetypes that she developed in "The Inward Garden" as a lens through which we can see - and shape - our gardens: these archetypes include concepts such as The Cave, The Harbor, The Promontory, The Island, The Mountain and The Sky. In her life and career-long experience, Julie finds we often seek to create in our adult gardens those types of spaces that brought us the most comfort, delight and discovery as a small child.
As I listened, I had those little electric frissons of dawning comprehension: my little entry courtyard was my Harbor - which is what I always tend to build in my home gardens - spaces allowing for both enclosure and view (think: sitting on your mother's lap as a small child, looking out into the world, safe within embracing arms.) Spaces allowing for retreat and rejuvenation from the world, but also allowing you a departure point of security from which to go out into the world.
As she spoke, it also became clear to me that the thing grating on me about my little courtyard's upheaval was more and deeper than just visual mess. The energy field that is my home and garden, and one of it's primary energetic boundaries in this little courtyard interface between my home and the rest of the world, was out of kilter in this moment of upheaval and disarray.
So, why does it matter?
Native Fairy lanterns (Calachortus albus) from the inside John's Canyon Creek woodlands.
Archetypes and energy fields might all sound a little more mystical than we're comfortable with. But as in all, my garden and its inhabitants have a great deal to teach me, if I am willing to stop and look.... and.... listen. If this energy (or any of the energies that flow in and around and through me) can trip me up, it can also hold me steady. If this can determine my mood and outlook without my noticing it, then think what it can do if I am intentional with it and practice collaborating with it for security, for strength, for comfort and for creativity?
If our gardens and the plants and lives therein are reflections of us, if they are among the most intimate of our relationships, then they allow us both perspective and practice ground to grow into who we want to be. But like any great life love or best friend, the relationship is impoverished indeed if we cannot hear their side, take their criticisms as opportunities for growth and take their cheerleading as signs of being on the right path.
When you sit and talk with them - listen to their energy fields and their boundaries - what are your garden and its lives sharing with you?
Above: Full Moon in Scorpio seen over blue oak woodlands, April 29, 2018.
When I first moved into my little suburban house with a wasteland of decomposed granite billed as "low maintenance" around all its edges, I dreamed of how this little front courtyard would send me off into my days, and would welcome me home again; how it would shelter daughters and would welcome guests. How when I started adding plant lives, it would create a visual hedge the help screen the street coming to the house, but not be so tall as to black my view to the open meadow and the little mountain range in the far distance.
In its first iteration these past few years, I planted a lot of herbs - scented Pelargonium and ice tea mint, thyme and chives; Salvia fruticosa with its ruffled silver leaves and tall spikes of blooms in late spring, and Bouteloua grass with its eyelash-like seed heads in late summer; a potted Brugmansia and a potted kumquat.
All of these, save the kumquat and the Brugmansia, have seeded around with great abandon in this little sunny space to the point where it's a challenge to sit in the chairs there. There's been an exuberant acceptance of this re-wilding by the bees, little song birds and hummingbirds, which I love, but I would like to reclaim a bit of boundary for sitting comfortably. And facing directly south, means the sun and exposure is daunting in our long hot summers, so I'd like a little more filtered light when the sun is highest. Finally, I've been aware these past few years of how porous this space can feel in relation to the sidewalk and street, and I'd like to create a slightly more defined sense of threshold for both those of us going out and those coming in.
A threshold which provides that subliminal cue to pause, and that allows for and encourages you to check your own energy, and work with it if you need to. It allows and encourages us to take a reading of the energy fields and boundaries on the other side so that we can recognize, work with, and learn from these very real relationships that shape and enrich our lives.
It's good garden practice, I think
Thank you all, as always, for reading/listening - for being on this path and in this conversation. Your energies reward me daily.
In May of 2018 - we're going to talk surprisingly small (invisible but very energetic) details with New York-based author Eugenia Bone, whose new book "Microbia" explores the millions of friends working to make our gardening (and otherwise) lives happen; we're then joined by Melody Overstreet, an Armenian American artist living in Central California who is coming to my area to host a natural pigments and watercolors class. She shares with us her own cultural and growing journey in this world from the perspective of love and art and color and social justice; we then travel to Upstate New York to share a Dispatches from the Home Garden with Bettina Mueller, whose Tea Garden in Tivoli is sure to inspire you. For the finale - as we indeed head into summer vacation, Sarah and I share a field trip site visit and bring back some show and tell about the challenging and wholehearted work of educator Kevin Jordan, working to bring horticulture to a very specific high school population in downtown Sacramento. His program serves as a model of heroic horticultural education for all.
Thank you as always for listening, your comments and emails, and for your support. Cultivating Place is a deeply grateful - heart-full - community-and-listener-supported endeavor.
LINKS TO APRILS'S CULTIVATING PLACE PROGRAMS
A Full Moon-Lunar-Beltane Bonfire on Sunday April 29 at John's Canyon Creek homestead. Clearing the energetic boundaries from one season and moon to the next!
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