Working in the Shade Garden

~ by Neal Lemery

Bewicks-wren on a branch

There’s a duality in my mind when I’m out in the garden.  Part of me is the scientist, the “educated” gardener who is looking for situations and problems that call for analysis, for organization and problem solving. What is here, what needs help, what changes would be beneficial?  Why would one change work better than another? The scientific inquiry, the observations, the speculation, the tentative ideas and hypotheses, the testing, the analysis, the refining of ideas, the research into possibilities and working theories soon occupied my work in that previously neglected part of the garden.

            The other part of me, and a fundamental part of the role as a gardener, and a steward of my little piece of the world, is being an artist, a creative.  I am also driven to play that role here. Artists are part engineers and part dreamers, visionaries, being able to see what could be, and figuring out how to get there.  That process may not be the purely analytical, scientific methodology, but it is analytical in a more holistic, organic sense. 

            Both approaches are creative, and involve all of our senses, and all parts of our brain, as well as our past experiences and dreams.  The two aren’t mutually exclusive, aren’t contradictory.  They are partners, working in tandem, both challenging me to come up with ideas that “work”, that “solve” the science questions and the art questions, which are often versions of the same question.

Much of what I think about and work on when I’m awake and “engaged” really comes from those other parts of my day, when I’m doing something else, or asleep, off in my dream world.  It often seems that the more challenging concepts, problems, and contradictions often seem to become clearer, more easily thought through after some sleep time.

            I’m often reminded of the thinking of Aborigines in Australia, who relate that sleeping and dreaming is really our reality and that being “awake” is our dream time. 

            One day, with trowel and garden gloves in hand, and a nursery box of plants in the other chair, I found myself sitting in a mostly unused chair next to the firepit. I contemplated my next task. A wren sang its beautiful song to me, reminding me that I was more than a scientist here.  I was an artist, tasked with bringing some beauty and solitude to this spot hidden from the world. And, that this garden wasn’t really mine.  I was a guest here, only visiting for a brief time when measured in Earth time.

            My two roles here, the scientist and the artist, seemed to be in harmony, in tandem, as I contemplated my next move, as I looked beyond this day and imagined this place fifty years from now, when someone else would be sitting here, listening to the wren’s song, and thinking what the next task was.

            I realized I’d already figured this out, where the plants should go, how the garden was coming together, a reflection of what I had been imagining and dreaming about.  The art and the science woven together, finding harmony and a sense of peace, achieving my dreams. 

One Comment on “Working in the Shade Garden

  1. Lovely post and very true! I equally love the scientist and the artist in me.

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