"Gardens have been the ground, which has rooted me as a citizen of the globe. I have loved all kinds of dirt in all kinds of places, and in each place I have improved the soil. . . . Gardening is a landed, dirty ritual that sustains hope for the new which is another way of saying gardens sustain activists," writes Donna Schaper, a lifelong gardener and the granddaughter of a strawberry and potato farmer in upstate New York. She has written many books and articles and is the winner of an ACLU Courage Award. Schaper is currently senior minister at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in New York City.
Gardening, according to the author, is a good grounding activity that keeps us humble and open to the mysteries and miracles of growth, transformation, and radical change. In this collection of essays, Schaper reminisces about the many gardens she has tended over the years in different places. For those who have gotten down on their hands and knees to tend the good earth, she offers plenty of cogent insights into planning a garden, moving through the seasons, mulch, weeding, seeds, and compost. Along the way, the author recalls being denied membership in a Garden Club, blowing out her back by overdoing it, and learning the lessons that the soil can teach the soul about hope, possibility, renewal, balance, and change. Of course, gardening is also about play, attention, openness, and patience.
Each chapter focuses on the rituals that come with gardening. Schaper notes:
"I never leave a workout in my garden without a good look around. In fact, in my favorite garden, the Amherst one, I work an area and ritualize my leave-taking by touching each of the ten plots. I touch them with sight. I stop long enough to see their growth and how things have changed, usually since a few days before. Learning to see change is important for both activists and gardeners: otherwise we think nothing is happening when all the while the painted buntings are preparing for their return."
Other spiritual teachings from gardening are about letting go, uselessness, surprise, fragility, disappointment, and effort. In one of our favorite essays, Schaper salutes Vita Sackville-West, May Sarton, and Katharine White as her gardening theologians. Anyone with a green thumb will agree: they have abundant insights into this precious and fulfilling pastime.
Grass Roots Gardening is the kind of book that slows you down and whispers new truths into your ears. For more on the political activism of this United Church of Christ minister, check out her website at www.donnaschaper.org.