God’s Gardens: Co-creating Friendships Among Plants and People
Gardens are a microcosm of our world. Given that The Garden was God’s first work of art, it is humanity’s role to dress and keep the garden beautiful, to be fruitful and multiply all that is good.
So how can we teach one another to tend to Earth’s garden — and their own inner growth?
Nourished by the Transformational Leadership capacities of a principle-based vision, unity in diversity, and creative initiative, Junior Youth at the Hillcrest Orchard Camp in Brooklyn, Wisconsin (July 6-10 and Sept. 30-Oct. 1) experienced the ways in which certain plants, like people, thrive as companions in containers—all as food and flowers of one garden.
Our team’s ongoing cocreation of a more beautiful world sets the humble intention to strengthen children as seedlings “so that each may become a fruitful tree, verdant and flourishing.”
Like plant life, each of us exists on this planet to serve a greater cause. Through the experiential learning of my Companion Gardening program, children and youth cultivate the belief that members of humanity are flowers of one garden that is the earth. Some of us are tough tolerant echinacea, some are sweetly scented roses with protective thorns, others are dainty chamomile that just want to soothe their neighbors. Pairs are companions on the spectrum of plant and people relationships and some pairs perhaps are what’s called in agriculture, antagonistic plants—crunchy cabbages which belong nowhere near the sweet strawberries. Many plants have complex needs for nutrients and can coexist in separate containers beautifully. There are also invasive thistles, which have medicinal “hearts” if properly processed.
The Baha’i writings offer both practical and poetic wisdom on growing food and flowers — and on growing purposeful individuals. Bahá’u’lláh described agriculture as “a vital and important matter” that was foremost among the principles “…conducive to the advancement of mankind and to the reconstruction of the world.” Moreover, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “…the fundamental basis of the community is agriculture, tillage of the soil. All must be producers.”
Offering the metaphor of humanity as flowers of one garden, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Divine Philosophy states: “In reality all are members of one human family—children of one Heavenly Father. Humanity may be likened unto the vari-colored flowers of one garden. There is unity in diversity. Each sets off and enhances the other’s beauty.”
Experiencing Food and Flowers of One Garden
On the morning of Day 1, camp co-director Wade Fransson found me sipping coffee by the garden and said: “You are the camp’s Earth Mother.”
During the gardening workshops, the kids experienced an applied understanding of complex relationships among “plant families.” They learned to become caretakers of the garden and through the playful self-care of savoring a moment to cool down in the mist of the hose, they began to mother themselves in the process. Tending to a small part of the planet (often referred to as the divine mother) participants from a variety of family/home lives deepened in the virtues of teamwork, patience, creativity, generosity, and self-sacrifice. Meanwhile, in the plant world, the geranium flower surrenders to a band of beetles so that the dahlia may live to attract pollinators for our food and flower friends; this disintegration makes way for integration—a reverent exchange of a wilting world for the gift of the new.
Service projects in nature included making the soil workable for an orchard of cherry and apple trees as well as Agriculture as Art in the form harvesting edible flowers, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, and herbs for meals by day and sleepytime lavender-mint tea from our “tea pots” (containers of herbal tea plants) by night. On Day 1, we explored the theme of Opening Up while soaking bush pea seeds, filing nasturtium seeds, cutting the eyes of seed potatoes, and measuring our hands as a way to gauge ongoing needs for spacing. On Day 2, we began companion planting potatoes inside our perimeter of dahlias, geraniums, flowering sage, alyssum, petunias, and basil. On Day 3, we continued to care for our garden, learned about container gardening design (thrillers, fillers, spillers), and Gave the Peas a Chance in pots to take home.
Humanity is indeed Flowers of One Garden; each person and plant in need of water, air, and care is positioned with a unique purpose. For instance, basil makes a good companion for potatoes because it repels pests such as flies, thrips, and hornworms. Both basil and potatoes enjoy moist soil. The basil provides a groundcover to maintain moisture and weed coverage. Meanwhile, alyssum’s sweet scent attracts wasps which eat insect pests that could destroy potato plants. Petunia also has a strong, sweet scent which protects potatoes from pests such as leafhoppers. And with its lush texture, flowering sage attracts pollinators to the whole garden. All along, the gardeners appreciate their co-creation by immersing themselves in the beauty of its diversity — the purity of its unity.
“Consider the flowers of a garden. Though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruit, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and color! Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof. In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Understanding the Phases of Companion Planting
Applied understanding of unity in separateness and togetherness brought into fruition container and in-ground gardens as part of the greater whole. With God (The Sovereign), the gardeners and the plants mirror one another’s capacity for healthy relationships among family and friends. By humbly responding to God’s call that we have dominion over the earth, The Sovereign Gardeners become stewards in developing the following noble virtues:
- Orderliness (establishing a layout with hopes and intentions with space for flexibility throughout the seasons, and weeding anything that prevents beneficial growth)
- Teamwork (mutually committing to one’s chosen roles and responsibilities)
- Respect (reverence for the plants and for one another)
- Support (building trellises for vining plants such as cucumbers)
- Self-sacrifice (taking on extra work, choosing purpose over comfort so that the garden becomes more fruitful)
- Care and Kindness (being gentle with the plants and watering them when needed, not overwatering or underwatering based on individual needs)
- Creativity (continually brainstorming ideas and exploring solutions for arising issues)
- Clear Communication (ongoing discussion on how to care for each plant, plant family, container, or plot)
- Detachment and Patience (surrendering to God’s mystery for the garden)
While practicing these virtues, children can learn the steps of creating a garden of companions and become inspired to implement this philosophy in their relationships with themselves, their friends, and their families:
- Sacred Flow: Establishing a Foundation of Rich, Healthy Soil. How can fertile soil invite a commitment to cocreate joy, hesed (conventional love), and group identity to make way for healthy corrections (amendments to the soil)?*
- Sacred Force: Defining the Container. What companions will we gently plant and how could they organically encourage one another’s growth?
- Opening Up: Allowing Seeds to Open Up. Which seeds benefit from soaking and which, such as wildflowers, can be sown directly in the ground?
- Timing: Planning Ahead. When should certain seeds be sown indoors in preparation for spring and summer?
- Adversity: Accustoming Your Seedlings to Hardship. How can seedlings, like developing people, be transitioned from the home (indoors) to the garden (outdoors)?
- Spacing: Giving Each Plant Enough Room to Grow. What virtues can be developed by giving each plant the needed space for its roots to grow and receive nourishment?
- Deadheading, Pruning, and Weeding: Disintegration Leading to Abundance. How can pinching wilted blooms, pruning dead branches, and uprooting certain invasive species create positive Integration?
- Growing Together: Bestowing Kindness, Generosity, and Care. How can plants, like people, work to protect and love one another? How might spiritual sustenance compare to the use of fertilizer in the garden?
- Clear Communication: Understanding Needs for Nourishment. How can people communicate clearly as trees quietly communicate their needs and send each other nutrients through a “wood wide web” of fungi buried in the soil?
- Maturity Bringing Closeness: Forming an Agreement. How do plants, like people, cocreate covenants in a defined container with specific soil and grow close to one another with loving mutuality?
- Harvesting: Savoring the Fruits of One’s Labor. What spiritual and physical health is experienced through the mindful use of food as medicine?
- Dormancy, Death, and Rebirth: How does cutting down a dormant perennial such as Echinacea send energy to its roots for the flower to emerge the following season? What moral lessons can be learned from the resurrection of plants and the practice of composting?
Diffusing a Fragrance, Leading Youth by Inspiration
The Garden offers wisdom in the way of nourishing healthy relationships among family and friends, establishing trust with oneself and with others, and basking in the floral beauty of sacred geometry. Embodying ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s “diffusing the fragrance of God in this new age,” this planting philosophy leads children through gentle inspiration. Recognizing the forces of integration and disintegration as part of the unfolding of God’s great mystery, youth and adults alike are invited to open up to prayerful wisdom as hollow, readied reeds for positive change.
The Companion Gardening program by Sienna Mae Heath, The Sovereign Gardener nourishes the belief that members of humanity are flowers of one garden. Children and families are guided in companion planting food and flowers of many gardens, coming to an applied understanding of complex relationships between food and flowers (and people) inspired by Transformational Leadership Capacities of a Principle-Based Vision, Unity in Diversity (contrast), and Creative Initiative.
Hillcrest Orchard Camp was sponsored by Desert Rose Baha’i Institute and The Royal Falcon Foundation. Royal Falcon Foundation’s Mission as led by Angela and Wade Fransson intended for upcoming events is to “create transformational programs that are attractive to young people from a variety of circumstances, which provide opportunities for spiritual growth and moral education through nourishing and challenging experiences—empowering them to embody nobility, think independently, form new friendships, become proponents of unity, and work to integrate diverse perspectives within their communities.”
You can view a video of the camp here, produced by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Jafar Fallahi. If you’d like to get involved, or know a tween or teen who could benefit, programs for the entire family, including training for those wishing to assist at sponsored camps or conduct similar camps will be held in October at the Desert Rose Baha’i Institute in Arizona; and in February 2024 in Orlando, FL. Please contact Wfransson@gmail.com for information. If you’re 11-15 and would like to attend, or 16 and older and would like to learn how to serve at camps like this, feel free to register for the upcoming Transformative Leadership Workshop being conducted at the Desert Rose Baha’i Institute.
Original article published on Baha’i Teachings: https://bahaiteachings.org/gods-gardens-co-creating-friendships-among-plants-and-people/