The Spirituality of Gardening

The Spirituality of Gardening


By changing how we garden to encompass spiritual principles, we can drastically change our gardening experience for the better.

It’s springtime, and I want my thumb to turn green. But, alas, it was my sister who inherited my father’s excellent gardening genes, not me. I have a complicated and challenging relationship with the plants I try to keep alive. I often find myself apologizing to them: “I wish I could have helped you thrive more! Please tell me what you need!”

Meanwhile, my industrious husband is poking around in his garden, the one he built during the pandemic for fear that we’d starve (and perhaps as a way to maintain some control during a time when we felt powerless about much of what was going on around us). Each year, his garden provides us with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. Yay! I am freed from having to run to the grocery store to grab lettuce in plastic containers to make my salad.

How Gardening Can Support Spirituality

It’s no surprise to many of us that humanity’s food system is broken. From industrialized agriculture that treats animals in despicable ways to rainforests being destroyed for coffee plantations, our species has created mass “monocultures” of crops which pollute soil and water. What’s more, the animals who once lived there are robbed of opportunities for foraging their natural diet, causing extinction and loss of biodiversity. In other communities, we have food deserts where packaged food is the norm and community health suffers. It’s a mess.

Creating our own food helps ensure that our habitat is treated well (devoid of pesticides!), and our own health is prioritized (less packaged food!). Using a small part of our yard means that the land can still support our local wildlife—like the squirrels who have a symbiotic relationship with the trees, helping them both thrive.

The practice of gardening can also bring many mental and physical benefits. Growing herbs can help alleviate anxiety. Time with hands in the soil can also be time for mindful prayer or engaged meditation as you tune into your senses and the purposefulness of your planting, offering gratitude for the seeds that will sustain you and the elements that will nurture them until they are ripe.

Designing with Sacred Geometry

While many of us were taught to sow seeds in rows, conscious gardener Cheryl Leigh Gama suggests that this approach minimizes the energetic flow possible within concentric circular planting. She recommends creating circles or spirals when designing gardens. “Planting our food within these powerful mandalas enhances and increases the lifeforce energy of our food exponentially. Superfood, super-charged with the essence of life,” she observes.

In her book Sacred Geometry Gardens: The Heart of Superfood Gardening, Gama provides step-by-step instructions for creating beautiful, non-linear gardens that can provide as much as 2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds of food every two to four days.

First, place a pole in the center of prepared soil where your garden will be. Attach a string with a “digging stick” to the pole, and slowly scribe a circle into the ground. Now repeat to draw concentric circles, making sure to keep in mind the recommended amount of space each seed or seedling will need to grow.

As a bonus, the book includes spiritual practices to try while planning, planting, weeding, harvesting, eating, and collecting seeds for when the cycle starts again. Gama covers a lot of ground here: Hopi practices, the yin and yang of Taoism, full-moon geometry, Ayurveda, and seemingly everything in between. Stunning photographs burst from every page, showing what is possible.

One practice I was drawn to was “tuning in” to plants. Gama acknowledges that this might sound like a “spaced-out hippie term,” but instead, she advocates for tuning in to quantum entanglement both practically and spiritually: “It’s time for humanity to recognize the unified field of life and behave with honor, respect, reverence, and gratitude, treating all life as ourself.”

What would it mean to treat our gardens as part of ourselves? Rather than thinking about plants as things that sustain us, we could consider how to help leafy beings sustain their lives until they become part of us.

What Do Plants Think?

Plant perception, sentience, consciousness, and biocommunication are controversial topics—like animal sentience was a hundred years ago. Reading the many viewpoints can be illuminating.

For example, in What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, Daniel Chamovitz suggests that plants can hear, smell, and see. Michael Marder, author of Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life, takes a slightly different approach, suggesting plants have “nonconscious intentionality.” Anyone who’s watched the film Fantastic Fungi understands the crucial actions fungi engage in. And Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate caused some of us to understand why we feel so profoundly drawn to forests. Skeptical scientists try to debunk these ideas, suggesting that more experimentation is necessary. And all of us should consider the ethical implications of their methodologies and their potential discoveries.

In some ways, all of these folks are trying to quantify or “prove” what practitioners of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) has articulated for millennia, as they have shared their experiences of the perspectives of plants and their human ability to cultivate an “enhanced mindfulness” that allows them to see those perspectives.

Mindful Eating

Some religions have sophisticated belief systems that allow for the presence of souls not only in animals but also in plants; the most notable of these is Jainism, one of the most ancient systems of spiritual thought in India, which prioritizes ahimsa (the avoidance of violence). The most exacting Jains choose to eat foods only after the plant has “offered” them—for example, ripe berries or apples—and they avoid eating any plant that would die from being picked, like root vegetables.

While the suggestion of plant souls might stretch some people beyond where they are willing to go, responsible harvesting is something we can wrap our heads around as a starting point. We need only look to the practices of Indigenous peoples who advocate for taking only the portions of the plant we need. Modern pagans also promote responsible harvesting of herbs in their wildcrafting practices, urging people not to overharvest from a single plant or field so that lifeforms can continue to live and thrive.

No matter whether you garden or not, what shape your garden may take, and how you select your food from the garden you tend, may you be blessed with a green thumb and an abundance of mindfulness.

Want more gardening wisdom? Read ”A Spiritual Approach to Pest Management.”

The Spirituality of Gardening

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