Gardening our soul

By Zara Tai OCV, 29 June 2021
Image: Sandie Clarke/Unsplash


I didn’t think I would be a gardener. Gardening was this mad thing my mum did. When I bought my house, Mum had all sorts of ideas for the garden. However, I had to plant it to suit the local conditions. There are different soils, different climate, different ideas on what to plant, different everything.

After a COVID outbreak brought a sudden end to our retreat at Douglas Park, I came home to continue the retreat. To keep in this spirit, it would be expected that you would not go out except for essentials such food and medicine. However, I snuck out to the local nursery to buy more plants, as I considered this was essential to my retreat. Somehow, I suspected God must have brought me home for a reason.

But what was that reason?

Over the years, I have been planting the odd native plant here and there. Some plants grew fast, others slow. A friend suggested I mulch the area. The result was amazing. I could see many opportunities for planting.

This garden has become the canvas of my life. Some plants were “on special” – significantly discounted, the ones that no one wanted. Some plants were pricey. The choice was limited. However, I was impatient to go out even though there was more variety in native plant nurseries further away. Whatever I bought, it would have a home in my garden. I had a great sense that somehow God and I would make it work.

In The New Seeds of Contemplation, it states that our “own vocation is simply not to be, but to work together with God in creating our own life, our own identity, our own destiny.”

My planting my garden was my way of gaining control of my destiny with and in God. I could not let anyone else do it. Like my life, I had to work with God in leading it and discern where and what God was calling me to be.

Me running out to the nearby nursery with limited choices meant I had to work with what I had. I am not in possession of all the plants God has to offer. Whatever gifts I had in the garden would become a place of love and life. God uses the cheap stuff that no one wanted, the expensive stuff, the stuff that was planted earlier – everything.

Along the way, I had help. Friends helped put in parts of the garden. The horticulturist provided me with the plants, mulch and much needed advice. We cannot do it alone. We work together to make this garden, a garden of life, of creation, of love.

However, I feel my hands are the painter’s hands. I somehow feel I am like a puppet. The plants are my paints, the mulched areas, my canvas. God uses my hands to plant and paint what I have available. God and I are working together to paint and nurture everything in me and to be a better me than ever, made in the image and likeness of God.

In time, I know some plants will die and may need to be replaced. The mulched areas give other plants space to grow and shine. Less is more, as they say. Let the shrubs be shrubs, the ground covers be ground covers. Give the plants space and time to breathe and grow so they can show their full potential.

There are other parts of the garden which have weeds. This is part of my garden – part of me. However, this ground is holy. Recently, we celebrated Mass and shared a meal here. Family and friends gather around a fire pit here. The fire pit has been a source of love, laughter, warmth, and feasting with family and friends.

The big pile of mulch and native potting mix on my driveway tells me that my canvas, my painting, is not ready. But that is okay. I hope that there will always be that pile of mulch and potting mix around in our heart and soul. There is always work to do. Replace this, top up that, allow space for growth, remove the weeds in our garden or use those areas for good use. We are both the painter and the canvas and with God, we are a work in progress but always getting closer to God and loving God.

I do feel rather maternal over this garden. It is our creation. It is our responsibility for its flourishing, as we are responsible for our flourishing in God. We are happy in seeing the birds, insects and reptiles, and ourselves, feed in it and change in it. In the passage of time, we see the dying, resurrection, birth of new life and growth in the garden and in each other. Now, and in the future, we will take joy as we pray in it, celebrating the Creator’s love in nature and in ourselves.

Zara Tai is a consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Parramatta.


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