monarch-catLast week, an audience member at a lecture asked me how I take time to enjoy my garden.  She liked to sit down, she said, and had benches everywhere to that end, but the minute she actually relaxed into one of them, her eyes would see a weed, or a wilting flower, or one of a number of things that needed attention, and she would react accordingly.  What was my best advice to combat this state of mind, she wanted to know?  How did I set work aside and enjoy the fruits (or flowers) of my labor?

Unfortunately, my husband was also present at this particular talk and found himself suddenly moved to speak. “She’s not qualified to answer that question!” came bellowing from the back of the room before I could throw the A/V projector at him.

Quite understandably he has not been given the rest of season’s lecture schedule.

The man is, to a certain extent, correct.  I suffer from the same malady as my interrogator.  Most gardeners do.  We construct perfect pairings of chair and chimonanthus – and just as the scent washes over us on a dreary winter’s day, we realize it must be time to prune the roses and go in search of a sharp pair of Felcos.  By the time we return to the bench four weeks later, the chimonanthus is in full leaf and probably needs a haircut itself.  But such is the gardener’s life.

Though it may appear exhausting to the novitiate, this state of being is not necessarily a terrible thing.  I am reminded of the Robert Frost poem Two Tramps in Mud Time where Frost speaks of splitting wood in the early spring with a pleasure that borders on the sublime.

bees-and-poppyHe is exquisitely aware of the changeable weather, the feel of the axe in his hand, the joy of ‘loosing his soul’ to the task. A bluebird alights nearby and he wonders at its thoughts – all the while deftly and squarely splitting oak logs for the season’s heating needs.  When two migrant workers appear and wish to take this job from him for pay, he steadfastly refuses, and ponders their confusion that he might find joy in it.

My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.


And that is where I stand, with Frost splitting wood…or pruning roses…or arranging a bench for an exciting new garden view.  What I must do and what I wish to do. My vocation and my avocation united.

Ill-mannered hecklers and poetic asides aside, as it happens I did have a practical answer for this fellow gardener – and one that I didn’t have to lie through clenched teeth to deliver.  I find that the best way for me to experience my garden free of the multitasking gardener’s brain is simply to bring someone else into the space with me.

What I must do and what I wish to do. My vocation and my avocation united.

Whether friend, child, relative or acquaintance (my husband is currently on probation), taking the time to see the garden through the eyes of another is a simple way to shut off the work-as-pleasure loop, and dwell for a few sweet minutes in another, equally valid space – pleasure-as-pleasure.

And May is certainly the month for that pleasure isn’t it?  The garden is arguably at its best, the weather is warm and pleasant, and there is nothing but potential ahead.  Frost might even find himself sharing a cup of coffee with a tramp or two over a quiet hour outside.