Sunday in a Garden

by Alec McCarter   November 2002


Carved into the wood of one of the arbours in Finnerty Gardens are the words of the familiar verse that ends with, “One is nearer  to God in a garden, than anywhere else on Earth.”


I have been wondering if gardening has anything to do with religion.  When I was a child, the Sabbath was a day on which one did “no manner of work.”  But I observed that after morning service, our family would sometimes spend the rest of the day in the garden.  Mind you, only light chores like weeding, or watering plants were undertaken – not heavy digging.  I noted that regular church-goers sometimes excused themselves from going to church by going to the garden instead.


So, perhaps gardening is an activity that, in part at least, can substitute for religious observance.


There is something about the sunshine, the soil, the growing green plants, the smell of the earth and the scents of flowers that brings one closer to the universe and makes one forget about the work-a-day world of getting and spending at which we do, indeed, lay waste our powers.  Going to the beach, or for a long walk in forest or field – in fact, just getting out into the country – gives one much the same sort of revelation and sense of being a part of something infinite and glorious.  But gardening is special.  It is so very basic.  It is nourishing to the body and spirit.  It is GOOD.  It is infinitely satisfying and warms the spirit of beginner and expert alike.


Pets – like dogs and cats and other animals too – are perhaps closer to us than plants, in that the mobile ones are aware of being alive, perhaps not introspective, but of giving and receiving relationships with others.  There is no evidence, I think, that plants can do that.  Yet, they respond to our feeding and watering, of giving them good soil in which to put down their roots, of siting them where they will get light and warmth sufficient to their needs.


While scientists are searching for life on other worlds, we gardeners are intensely aware of the uniqueness and immediacy of this world upon which life exists.  We know that the physical conditions which must obtain for life to develop as we know it, are so stringent, and so very unlikely to be met, that the chances are extremely small that there is other life in the universe.  One cannot be dogmatic about saying so because life has happened at least once – here, on this hospitable ball traveling in now-visited, indifferent, limitless space.  And the miraculous results seem unreal.


Here in the sunshine, with our hands in the very soil of the earthy earth, and with the vast blue sky overhead, we break apart the clump of plants and place them where they will live and grow.  It is real, real, real.


We muse about these things even while we dig and trowel, observe and marvel, prune and harvest.


Reprinted from the Finnerty Garden newsletter July 2002