Beauty and the Community Garden / by Christine Smith

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Recently someone asked me to tell them about Seedleaf gardens and the benefit they offered surrounding communities. Obviously Seedleaf gardens provide food and are places for learning and neighborly engagement. These are all very good but at the top of my list was beauty. At their best, Seedleaf gardens offer beauty and for me, this is just as important as the food that comes out of them. 

To clarify, beauty refers to more than appearances. There is an emotional element as well that is hard to capture but may be described as equilibrium or truthful recognition. For most people, daily life is filled with busyness, worries, slights, romances, anxieties, arguments, duties and a non-stop list of things that may not be remembered in a month’s time. Their immediateness gives them an outsized importance and sometimes we define ourselves by this flurry of emotional and physical activity.

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When I enter a garden, and look around and listen and begin work these external things fall away for a while. I don’t know my birds very well but I try very hard to remember the names of the ones I do know and how to recognize them. I now know the laser sounds of the Cardinal and the cooing of Mourning Doves. As I work, I listen and take time to watch critters and insects eat and build homes. Active acknowledgement of all this, these happenings that happen whether I am there or not bring me back to myself and provide perspective. For an hour or more, I don’t think of deadlines or all the things that must be done or can’t be done. Or, if I do think about them, they shrink to their proper non-life threatening size.

Most importantly, when I think of myself and my life at these moments — the high drama, fright and disappointment of being goes somewhere and I remember who and what I am — a woman, clever, a little odd, but generally good and certainly no better or worse than the next person. This is not a novel observation but every time I feel it, this truth, I am struck. 

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Then, there is the more traditional understanding of beauty, referring to the appearance of things and landscapes. Often the designation of beauty falls upon objects that are proportionate and orderly. And yet, to my eye the most beautiful Seedleaf garden is our Georgetown place permaculture garden — the messiest and most chaotic garden that we possess.

It has a wildness that for two growing seasons I have tried to contain and control. It is chock full of Winter Creeper, Rose of Sharon, Ivy, blackberries, tree of heaven, honeysuckle and pockets of poison ivy. It can be tiresome to work in this garden but it is there, in all that wildness that I can’t help but pay attention to the way different leaves present themselves, or admire the prettiness of shafts of light on Black-eyed Susans.  Nature demands to be seen. By stopping and taking the time to admire, again I am reminded of the importance of these things that exist outside of myself and my worries and reminded that in paying attention to them, they reveal some truth about me, too.

Seedleaf is hosting an Un-Gala to raise money to build an educational pavilion and tool shed up at our urban farm. To donate, click here.