Gardening Life

Hello All,

Recent weeks have seen several days of heavy rain, and have turned my mind to the endless flow of what medieval people would call the vis naturae, the power or healing force of nature. As Lowell Duckert recently discussed in his paper ‘When it Rains’ at the New Chaucer Society in Portland, rain infuses and co-composes, filling the world with its nutritive power. I have watched water with a new respect with this talk in mind, feeling it soak my skin, wet my clothes (I lost my umbrella!), run down the road past my home into a drain, fall as hail, and make the leaves glisten. I love the feeling in the air before rain, the freshness of the cold, the sounds of countless tiny beads of water falling and making impact.

Most of all, I love the effect of rain on my garden. I have a series of vegetables growing: pak choi, kale, chinese broccoli, sugar snap peas, potatoes and spring onions. In the rain, the nutritive force of water, coupled with the rays of the sun, have prompted a vivifying burst of life in my back yard. I have been eating, enjoying and watching my vegetables, and feeling a great personal satisfaction in the gardening experience.

A Medieval Kitchen Garden in Perugia, Italy. Courtesy of wikimedia commons

This, as many things do, turned my thoughts to more abstract gardens. I often think of my thesis as a fertile soil to be cultivated, the seeds of words bursting forth into new life. This is an image that resonated within medieval thought, within the allegorical evocation of Eden, the first of gardens. In a passage I am using in my current chapter on hydrological language and the narration of Cistercian Space, Aelred of Rievaulx evokes a garden of the soul:

If we should wish, my brothers, to have this [second] Adam [Jesus Christ] dwell in our heart, we must there prepare a paradise for him. May the soil of our heart be fertile and fecund, abounding in virtues like spiritual trees. May the Spirit be there, like a never-failing fountain which irrigates us spiritually with grace, devotion, and all sorts of spiritual delight. May the four virtues be there, like four rivers which wash us clean of all the grime of vice and render us unsullied and unstained. All this so that we may be fit for the Lord’s embrace!

I often feel that with rich soil, the care of cultivation and the seeds of new ideas, writing creates the environment for something new, beautiful, rich and fecund. I often think of my life in the same terms: the soils of potential experience allow the cultivation of new experiences, unfurling like shoots from the rich earth of life. This notion evokes the Aristotelian notion of eudaimonism, of the literal ‘flourishing’ goal of life, of promoting those activities and virtues that best allow growth.
So today i’d like to invite you to take a step back from the grinding, often anxiety provoking passage of life and take the time to imagine a softer, greener, gentler way of imagining the world. Sometimes, to my mind, ecomimesis offers the most profound and satisfying metaphors for human life, and opens our own personal strivings up to participation in a web of interactions infinitely larger and more commodious than one life-world can encapsulate. Find a real garden, watch the falling water nourish it, and feel the same forces at work within your life. Although going out into the uncultivated world evokes another, perhaps more profound, power, the garden has a peculiarly contrived, and yet industrious quality that I find meshes powerfully with my desire to strive in a structure environment, to merge an inhuman force with a human one.
In The Nature Principle, Richard Louv argues that “a reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, and survival” (p. 3). What better way to reconnect than to take delight in the garden without, and cultivate the garden within?

Take Care,


p.s. Now anyone can have some rain in their daily life! Take a look at It’s amazingly good for one’s concentration and workflow.


One thought on “Gardening Life

  1. Beautiful James! I liked the Aelred quote. Weren’t you going to build a little water feature in your garden at one point?

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