The Life of Plants

At this time of year, my greatest solace is the earth; witnessing her abundant beauty nourishes me in ways that nothing else can. Irises bloom by the dozens in my yard these days, regal and wise as they open to the sun, presenting a veritable sea of color. Everywhere I look, the world is greening up, as trees, bushes and lawns burst forth with rich, green life. This lush growth catalyzes buds of new life deep within me, pushing me to explore, to stretch…to wonder anew at life and its possibilities.

For the fourth year in a row, I’ve been working at a garden center, soaking up the beauty and wisdom that spills out of eight long greenhouses. Each year I am entranced by the process of growth and change that develops over a few months of time. In the dead of winter, the greenhouses stand virtually empty…elongated gray, hollow shells that creak and groan through the winds of winter. Gradually, a crew of ten people plants enough seedlings to fill all the greenhouses with hundreds of varieties of flowers and vegetables.

After several months, the plants begin to bloom in profusion. By March, the geranium greenhouse is alive with vibrant color, in sharp contrast to the bleak winter world outside. By May, the garden center is at its peak. This year my domain is greenhouse four, where thousands of petunias reside. Since the petunia house has the most abundant store of color at the garden center, I enjoy facing such rich beauty every day. There are days my eyes are so filled with luscious tints and hues of color, I am almost blinded by its splendor. Beyond the beauty, I enjoy the music that I hear as the petunias sing to me. With their faces uplifted to the sun, I hear lilting music, songs befitting fairies, leprechauns and other magical creatures. These melodies fill my heart and soul each day as I care for the flowers, and they care for me.

At one time, I questioned my sanity when “hearing” the language and music of plants. But I’ve long since abandoned the logic of my experience, largely due to the validation received from others who hear this life as I do. Simply stated, it’s a matter of “tuning in”, or listening to the subtle sounds that plants emit. Some of this validation has come from books that focus on the life of plants.

One of the first books that helped me to understand the life of plants was written about the Findhorn community in Scotland, and titled The Findhorn Garden. Established in 1962, Findhorn was an experimental garden community whose members communed with plants through meditation, and arranged their gardens according to the instructions received during these meditations. The phenomenal growth that resulted from their efforts defied scientific explanation. Plants grew to twice their normal size, despite the fact they were planted in soil that was mostly sand and gravel. Flowers, fruits and vegetables thrived at Findhorn, even though they grew in miserable conditions and a bitter climate. The Findhorn community was able to demonstrate what is possible when humans learn to live in harmony with the natural world.

More recently, I was given a book called Growing Myself, by Judith Handelsman, a former garden columnist for Vogue and New Age Journal. The author, inspired by the Findhorn community, explores the life of plants as a city dweller. Another book that I was recently introduced to, Sisters of the Earth, is a collection of women’s writing on the natural world, and embellishes on the theme of living in harmony with nature. This wonderful treasure includes ninety women poets and prose writers, and serves as a rich testament to the impact that nature has on our lives. Another book that has been highly recommended to me is The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. Its jacket boasts that it is a “fascinating account of the physical, emotional and spiritual relations between plants and man.”

Bolstered by the experiences of others who find that plants have rich beauty and wisdom to share, I treasure my time in the greenhouses each year, and believe that I learn much more from the plants than my conscious mind is aware of. Several years ago, I wrote this lyric about my experience with greenhouse four: “Sweet alyssum, soft with the scent of honey, fills the air. Lovely visions of pastel colors, blooming everywhere. As the sun climbs higher, I feel the green within me grow; the life of plants revealing all I need to know. It’s the life of plants, teaching me to grow. Green gives us life, green feeds the soul.” Take some time to listen to the life of plants, and let them help you learn to grow.

© 1998 Marybeth Bethel