I recently had a conversation with someone who is trying to buy a house locally and has viewed probably around twenty houses by now. What really struck me was her comment that the more recently-built houses more often than not have very small gardens.
The reason this comment particularly aroused my interest is that since we moved into our new house I have begun to find the time for and interest in gardening that I have previously lacked, presumably due to the fact that the children are growing older and make slightly less constant demands on me these days. I have found immense pleasure in encouraging and nurturing growth, as well as viewing and tasting the results of my work. I have become eager to spend time in the garden, to watch the progress of the growing things and to keep a protective eye on them so that they might grow to their fullest potential. And it feels as though I have come to understand with far greater immediacy my own dependence on what is produced by the soil because I am so strongly reminded of the process required to produce the food products I buy from the supermarket.
Although it can’t be argued that there was ever a time in history when every family depended on their own garden and growing skills to feed themselves, it is true that in developed countries industrialisation has led us to the point of greater disconnection from the source of our food than, say, four hundred years ago – unless we work in the food production industry, perhaps. And so I have wondered whether the fact that new houses are built with limited garden space could be a symptom of this sense of disconnection, not just from the source of our food but also in a wider sense our dependence on the Earth and all its rich abundance. Obviously following that train of thought there are wider ecological implications, particularly the consideration that as a race, our apparent lack of concern for the damage we cause to the environment we depend upon could in part be fuelled by this growing disconnection. But my immediate response is a much more personal one, because now I find the act of gardening to be such a sustaining and fulfilling work that I feel it draws me closer to a sense of the divine presence, and the sense that all of this eager impulse to life and growth in the soil, as well as the care and dedication it takes to nurture that life, is fully and completely a divine gift.
I’m sure that if any of these musings have truth in them they are only part of the much bigger question of how we relate to our environment physically and, potentially, spiritually. Yet who’s to say that if we all had gardens and worked in them it would encourage a better sense of communal responsibility for our wider environment, or a taste of the divine presence? There is some indication that interest in gardening is growing, particularly given that gardening equipment is becoming more readily available in supermarkets. But not everyone has the impulse or inclination to be a gardener, just as not everyone has the desire to be a midwife or an engineer. And I could not begin to guess whether everyone who gardens considers it to be a spiritual activity. I do wonder though whether in the time before industrialisation, when more people depended on their own growing skills, there was greater understanding of our role as caretakers of the Earth and all it provides. And what might we achieve if as a society we continue to encourage one another to nurture the produce of the soil and provide more green spaces for each other to enjoy?