We must have officially entered the Great British garden season now that the Chelsea Flower Show is upon us, or the Chelsea Shower Flow if you are visiting in the rain! The garden plays an important part in British culture, behaviour and architecture. Our domestic plots of lawn, flowers and trees reveals a nations humble attempt to suppress and contain the wilds of nature. This is a prolific season – late spring – when creation seems to be pulsate with life and begins an unspoken adventure. Leave your garden, your contained, organized patch of green at your peril. The wilds of nature will take over. Eric Morecambe had the best suggestion when considering his garden’s upkeep:
“My neighbour asked if he could use my lawnmower and I told him of course he could, so long as he didn’t take it out of my garden!”
Here in Summertown, the elegant massing of the church of St Michael & All Angels sits within a generous curtilage of lawns and borders. It is a popular spot for picnickers in the summer, for a sporting venue for the young, for dog walkers and for casual drinkers and imbibers of many ages. The garden is a public space and a place of welcome for the community. The church realises that its fabric and grounds are a local landmark and a feature to be enjoyed. This, then, is a mission field for the church.
Gardens play an eminent part in the biblical narrative of God and his creation. From Eden and then the promise of “a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing.” (Deut. 8:8-9) In the New Testament the gardens are situated in the city spaces of Jerusalem’s Gethsemane and the garden tomb, the places of anguish and liberation, containing the wilds of nature and our human condition. Jesus the gardener is recognized not at first as the risen Christ, but as the comforter of a grieving heart, that of Mary Magdalene. It is not surprising in our contemporary context that gardening has been found to be a form of therapy for the bereaved, the anxious and the lost. For example, former members of the armed forces suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have found hope, security and purpose in the manual and menial tasks that our gardens provide. Garden tools are being used as therapeutic tools. There is something extremely primitive and rooted about digging, weeding, pruning and planting.
I would like to offer our church garden to any who have need as a place of wellbeing, creativity and fellowship. It would be great to gather a group who could work together in the week and share the beauty of this space. As for the wilds of nature as well as our human condition, we shouldn’t be too fearful, after all the author A.A. Milne recognised that, “weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”