The garden of the spirit

Roses at Kew Gardens, July, 2017

“The ground I tend sustains me in early summer, but the garden of the spirit is the place I go when the wind howls…Raised in the mind’s eye, nurtured by the faithful composting of orange rinds and tea leaves and ideas, it is finally the wintergarden that produces the true flowering, the saving vision.” — Louise Erdrich 

Thank you, Louise Erdrich, for pointing out the beauty of our gardens of the spirit. I need the occasional reminder that this unseen garden requires tending, so that its blooms will be there to lift my heart when the wind howls. I was delighted to read that Erdrich uses the same compost materials I do. Sometimes I run low on orange rinds when they are out of season, but I’m never short on tea leaves or ideas. I also rely on the gifts of friends who bring me their coffee grounds, veggie peels and reassuring words to sprinkle over the soil after a hard rain.

If we were to take a quick tour through your garden of the spirit, what might we find there? Do you favor lots of annual color, or does the landscape feature mostly sturdy evergreens and hardy perennials? What are your favorite composting materials? Is yours a formal garden, with statuary and fountains and topiary? Or is it a beautifully overgrown cottage garden with a cute bistro table and chairs for casual chats over a cup or two? Maybe you are a practical type whose garden puts wholesome fruits and vegetables on the table, or maybe your own garden of the spirit is a combination of many types.

The wonderful thing about gardens, whether of the earth or of the spirit, is that no two are exactly alike. But they all require diligent care. If you run short on composting materials or need some help with the weeding, let me know. Cooperation and community are the most productive and fun ways to cultivate thriving gardens of the spirit. Iced tea (or hot coffee) and comfy chairs will be waiting for us on the Verandah when we finish working for the day. Sun hat optional.



  1. Good morning, Julia! what an excellent question for me to ponder: what does my “garden of the spirit” look like, and how am I tending it?
    The first thought that came to mind is (unfortunately, but enlightening to me) my shade garden, which I attempted to put in last year after having a lage cottonwood tree removed from the southwest edge. I’ve been out of town a lot, and so it is tended in fits and spurts when I’m in town. God has graciously kept it watered such that it hasn’t totally died off. The yarrow borders are wilting, the ground cover sparse, the lilies of the valley look like the first patch of beard attempted by a young man when he figures out that he can choose to shave – or not, and the buried roots of the old cottonwood are shooting up replacement trees by the dozens. Yikes. Whenever I visit (i.e. tend) my garden, I end up covered in mud and mosquito bites.
    I could learn from this. My spiritual garden requires steady care. The “rare flurry of activity” method does not yield the results that I’m striving to achieve.

    • Susan, WOW, that does sound like a lot of work. If you discover the secret to shade gardening, please let me know. I’ve been trying to do some sort of shade gardening for years in the back 1/3 of our York lot (which I jokingly refer to as “the lower 40”) and haven’t had true success with anything. Our next door neighbors seem similarly challenged with what they try to grow. I’m glad your plantings have at least survived. Having little trees still springing up from a tree you just had removed sounds quite disheartening. Thankfully, we had no such problems with the giant oak we had removed in 2015. I’m afraid the “rare flurry of activity” method is a perfect descriptor for my own situation. Such are the disadvantages of frequent absences. I suppose that means I (we) need to visit the spiritual garden regularly, since it’s not bound by geographical distance. Easier said than done, though, since the clock still prevails seemingly no matter where we are. Hope you are having a great week! 🙂

  2. Bruce Sims

    Reblogged this on Call 2 Witness.

  3. Ann

    Julia, so glad you are back with your blog! On an unselfish note, it means that you are doing better(I hope). On a selfish note, your blogs- the photos, the quotes and your comments – mean so much to me. Thanks for sharing with me.❤️

    • Thank you, Ann. I wish I could tell you that I’m doing better, but it doesn’t feel so to me. Right now the best I can hope for is that the overall trend is at least somewhat higher than it was, say, 10 months ago. WOW, it’s so hard to believe it has been more than 11 months since Jeff was here at home with us. So far, I can’t really say that it has gotten any easier overall. BUT there are occasional bright spots here and there, and it cheers me considerably to think that anyone, anywhere is enjoying what I write here. Thanks so much for staying with me on this journey. It means more than I can say. ❤

  4. So happy to see you here Julia. I have missed you. Thinking of you and hoping all is well xo

    • Thank you, Misifusa. I miss you too, and I still have not given up the idea that one day I might have more time for my blogging family! SHINE ON! – the rays are visible all the way out here!! 🙂

      • Shine on dear friend. We can see your love shining too! ♥

        • ❤ 🙂

  5. Carolyn

    Just good morning and enjoying some cooler weather. Very cloudy right now. One more week to wait before I see my oncologist. Waiting sure can be touch on the nerves. Hope you and Matt will have a good week. Love and hugs to you both.

    • Hi Carolyn, I agree with you about the waiting…very stressful. Matt and I have been praying that you will get a great report this time around. Let us know how it goes. We love you. ❤

  6. What a lovely quote, Julia. I’m part romantic, part pragmatist and 100% practical when “push comes to shove” so to speak.

    • Alys, that sounds like an ideal combination to me. No wonder I like you so much. 🙂 I so appreciate people who know how to press on and provide real support through either tears or laughter.

  7. MaryAnn

    What a “delicious” post! My garden of the spirit has multiple strawberry plants, ever blooming & creating colorful flowers & fruit! Add an orange tree, a lemon tree, a weeping willow, a giant redwood, many, many rosebushes in all the hues, plus a field of wildflowers and very comfortable seating for our “tea party”! My actual garden is a non-structured array of different plants. My current favorite, in the front yard, is a huge plumbago that grew & grew with all the wonderful rain in CA this year! The backyard has an apricot tree, a cheery tree, several fig trees & lots of flowers. The trees were planted by previous owners. We have enjoyed the fruit of their labors: pun intended!
    Happy Monday!

    • Mary Ann, thanks for that description of your gardens…I feel refreshed just reading it! I didn’t know what a plumbago looked like, so I googled it (don’t you love how easy it is to see photos of something like that?) and WOW, how beautiful! Years ago when Jeff went to a landscaping class at the local extension service, they told him that in our area, the blue flowers are the rarest and most difficult additions to the landscape. I’ve seen lots of pretty hydrangeas since then, so I’m not sure if what they said was true, but I wonder if plumbagos would grow in our area? Your ideal garden sounds a lot like mine – an eclectic mix of fruits, flowers and evergreens with deep emotional connections tied to good memories. You’re lucky indeed to enjoy the fruits of others’ labors– we had that benefit from our neighbor while we lived in northern California. My garden of the spirit benefits from the fruits of your life! Love from Matt and me.

      • MaryAnn

        You bless me with your words! Much love to you & Matt!

        • Thank you, Mary Ann! We send you our love too.

  8. Gardens are all different. The are good for the earth and the soul. Mine needs more work and I love to be out there.

    • Marlene, I might just put that last sentence on a little sign as a reminder to myself. “Mine needs more work and I love to be out there.” I am always refreshed and nourished by the time I spend at such work. Since I tend toward procrastination (a.k.a. goofing off or puttering around) I need to prod myself a bit to do what is good for me AND for my environment. Hope you are having a good week. Sending giant grass-stained garden-gloved hugs!

  9. Harry Sims

    Breathe in the inspiration of goodness and truth. It is the spirit of honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love. It is readily available if we are willing to accept it wholeheartedly. God has given us two things – His spirit and the power of choice – to accept or not, as we will. We have the gift of free will. When we choose the path of selfishness and greed and pride, we are refusing to accept God’s spirit. When we choose the path of love and service, we accept God’s spirit and it flows into us and makes all things new.

    Copied and pasted from Hazelden’s Thought for Today.

    I love this blog site.
    Do you suppose I need to defeat despair?

    • Thank you, Harry, I’m so happy you like it here. 🙂 And yes, I think we ALL need to defeat despair. Some of us know that now, and the rest of us will know it eventually. Life is relentless that way.

  10. Among the comments of this blog entry are the words “. . . anyone anywhere is enjoying what I write.”

    Hey, that includes me; and I do.

    • Thank you, Eric. I’m so glad it includes you.

  11. Mike

    Here in Seattle we have, at the university of Washington Botanical garden, a winter display garden which is really quite spectacular in the depths of winter with several flowering species, Mahonia-Oregon Grape, beauty Berry and flowering Viburnum -” Bodhantense.” Also Harry Lauders walking stick- which I have in my literal garden. A winter garden is an enchanting place. I forgot the amazing Witch hazels with their mysterious citrus scent. I am always filled with wonder why would something bloom in winter-with a paucity of pollinizers?
    So today in Seattle we have 7 uncontrolled wild fires in out vicinity with ash falling like snow in big flakes threatening our car’s exteriors. And my DIL folks are evacuting to Orlando from West Palm.

    • WOW, Michael, what a fabulous list of plants. I had only ever heard of Witch Hazel (I think we have Viburnum in our York neighborhood, but not the Bodhantense variety). I looked up every one you mentioned and each is quite unique and beautiful. I had no idea Witch Hazel flowers looked like that. And the Harry Landers walking stick! Surely that must be the Chihuly sculpture of the plant kingdom? (I wonder if it inspired some of his designs?) Interesting question about the pollen – I read up on it a bit and apparently there are, at least in milder regions, winter-active pollinators. I learn so much from these blog comments! I surely hope your wildfires have been contained by now, and that your daughter-in-law’s family missed the worst of the storm.

  12. Mike

    DIL’s folks are sheltering now in Orlando where Jen’s sister and her partner are both in the police force. I don’t know if I ever mentioned Kubota garden, but they have some amazing witch-hazlels that in January when- hardly anything else is flowering- they are quite stunning. It is hard to describe the flowers that are like little strands of silk. Did I mention the Beauty Berry with their pink-purple berries in winter on leafless limbs. Also the winter box-
    We have a local garden guru- Cisco Morris who does a bunchof classes. He also does garden tours to Europe including Italy which is on my bucket list.
    The walking stick or curly Filbert is striking in winter. I think Kubota has a website.
    Did I tell you about the Swamp Magnolia in the South Seattle botanical garden. Wonderful lemon scent.
    Looking forward to learning some of the Georgia -plants and trees.

    • Mike, I was thinking I remembered you mentioning Kubota Gardens sometime, but could not remember the Witch Hazels. However I did a word search, and you did mention them in one of the very first posts of this blog, over 4.5 years ago! (Your comment is down the list a little ways.) You mentioned the garden a bit later when you told us about the Camperdown Elms. You did mention Beauty Berry just the other day and I looked them up. Their bright color was striking! Almost looked like digital editing, except that there were dozens of online images all the same bright colors. I’m not familiar with the swamp magnolia but the pictures of it online look a lot like the southern magnolia, which you will see in abundance in Georgia. Just a word of warning…depending on your yard, you might end up raking pine straw more than leaves! Pine straw is about all that ever fell on our yard, and since it was from evergreen trees, it fell pretty much year round Lots of raking. 🙂 On the plus side the azaleas and camellias love it as mulching because it is acidic.

  13. Mike

    4.5 years? It seems like yesterday. I think the Swamp magnolia is the same as the southern Magnolia.
    They sell the pine straw in bales for mulch right? The moving process is a little overwhelming now. And I am giving notice today in my home health hospice position. I don’t do that great in transitions.

    • Mike, it is amazing to me, too, that the blog has been going that long. You were among the very first readers. I know the move must be terribly overwhelming. Even for military families who move every few years, it’s difficult on many levels no matter where one is headed. I remember that the move from CA to Hawaii was almost unbearable, despite how beautiful Hawaii is and how lucky we were to go there. Somehow I must have known that the magic of those central coast years was gone, never to return. On the plus side, new adventures await…and being close to the grandchildren will surely make it all worthwhile. I’ll be thinking of you both as you pull up stakes and get ready for a new chapter of life. I’m sure there will be a bit of culture shock, but y’all will be Georgians in no time! That first springtime of dogwoods and azaleas will go a long ways towards healing the homesickness.

  14. Mike

    It saddens me to hear of the demise of the Pecan orchards arouind Macon,- thanks to Irma- I am not sure I can survive there without pecans and I was so looking forward to some praline nougats. Oh well. Boiled peanuts are just not the same.
    So Raynard and I are charter members of the Julia blog? I think of Raynard as a living saint. Perhaps I will get to meet Raynard also. I may have mentioned Verie has two nephews in Virginia -one in Norfolk and one in Richmond. Both grew up in SanFrancisco and somehow made their way East to the “right coast.” We hope to see them also at some point.
    I suppose my first stop will have to ber Chick-Fil-A, although we have three of them within ten miles of us now here in So. Seattle.

    • Mike, don’t even THINK about boiled peanuts! Roasting them in the shell is the only way to go. Not to worry, you will have plenty of pecans; read here and get ready for some great holiday baking.

      Yes, you and Raynard, along with Kelly (aka Boomdee), Merry, Sheila and several others are “charter members” of the Julia blog. I would need to go back into those early comments to find all of you, but sometime I should publish an honor roll. Sadly, two of our charter members, namely my Daddy and Larry, who was the husband of one of Jeff’s sisters, have died during the years of this blog, along with Jeff who was the inspiration and sole reason for starting it. I like to think that the three of them have now permanently defeated despair. If you pass through Richmond and Norfolk be sure to let me know. You can stay in our guest house if you need a place to stay, and we might even talk Raynard and Mary into making one of his legendary “Cannonball Runs” while you are there. Since they live in Delaware it’s actually easier for them to come to Norfolk than DC, I think, but I’m not sure.

      When you get to Atlanta, you should make a pilgrimage to the Dwarf House, which was the birthplace of Truett Cathey’s empire, and also to Greenbriar Mall, where I used to work at Rich’s, and where the first Chick-Fil-A sandwich shop opened. Both businesses are still in operation, although the Rich’s long ago became Macy’s, and I would guess that the Chick-Fil-A is not as tiny as it was in those days.

  15. Mike

    Hmmnn. The Dwarf house. Have to check this out. Don’t know if my son has been there.Tomorrow is my last day at Harbor Hospice in Hoquiam. They have been good to me and it is sad to leave.
    You are not that far from Norflolk in Alexandria? Maybe we can do a tea run. Verie likes tea- especially orange dulce.
    There will be alot to do in Atlanta. I want to see Dahlonega and the original gold mine there and maybe do some gold panning. I did not know the US original gold rush- or first- one was in Georgia and they have a wonderful display at the Tellis museum.

    • Mike, Alexandria is over 3 hours from Norfolk, but our York home is much closer– less than an hour in good traffic. I haven’t tried orange dulce but now I’ll have to look for it! If you went to Dahlonega you probably know that the gold on the capitol dome was mined there. Given the mayhem that resulted from the California Gold Rush, it’s probably best that Georgia’s was much less eventful! It really is a sad story what happened to many of the people in the CA gold rush. (including the man who owned the land where the gold was discovered, and the man who discovered it, neither of whom ever profited from the discovery). Georgia, like California and I guess every place, is full of fascinating stories. You will have much to explore!

      My heart goes out to you in the pain of leaving a place where you have lived so long, and formed precious ties. I hope you are able to be comforted by many happy memories and continued correspondence with those you love.

      • Mike

        Yes it will be fun getting lost in Atlanta as I have done most trips
        But Google maps may be s saving Grace.twice o have ended up in Carter’s ville. I must seek the big chicken out again. And most places are about an hour away.

        • I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever even been to Cartersville. Shooting past it on 75 en route to Nashville is probably the closest I came. I bet some people might think it was named after the President? But he is from south Georgia. Metro Atlanta is pretty easy to learn compared to some places. Just think of I-285 as a big pie and 1-20, I-75 and I-85 are the lines that divide it into six slices. Downtown is harder though because the streets are not on a grid like a lot of cities are. The downtown area is so different now that I would get lost walking around. When I went to Georgia State to school I walked all over downtown (not to be confused with uptown– Buckhead) and got to know it pretty well, but then when they came in and built the Marta stations and so many new buildings I don’t have a clue anymore.

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: