Flower gardens – what could be less practical? And yet, they are one of the most practical ways to inject beauty into a community – the beauty that heals.
My first garden was a joint project with the Bishop of Northern Uganda, Gakumba Johnson. At first, it was a total failure. We raised the money for a garden only to have a crooked contractor steal it. When the Bishop explained this fact to his people, the people decided to build the structures they wanted, and with their own labor. Many were orphaned teens, ill with HIV and starving. Yet within a year they had built 25 churches for roughly 25,000 people. The Bishop became a master gardener of people.
My second garden was for neighbors who don’t like me. I never meant to not be liked in my neighborhood. Yet here I am. My solution was to plant at least 5,000 bulbs in a garden that they would see every day. With each bulb I planted I prayed, “Let there be deep beauty in the broken earth.” The garden is the prayer for peace. I wrote the poem “Short Accounts” after years of not keeping short accounts. After six years, during the pandemic, something shifted. We smiled about flowers. They enjoyed them. And we now have comity. This is one time that the playbook from the famous movie Babette’s Feast worked for me.
From 2017-2020 I worked at the Rick Herrema Foundation near Ft. Bragg, NC on an interactive trauma-healing garden. This large garden was created with military families, landscape architect Sean Sweeney and TFTC Gardens . Our pilot garden found service members and their families enjoying the beauty, cutting flowers to take home (allowed and encouraged!), and helping to tend this place of great healing. One family even picked up their soldiers from the airport and drove to Rick’s Place garden and asked their tired soldier to pick flowers with them before they went home. Later, the soldier’s daughter, 6, declared that the garden at Rick’s Place was the best place in the world because she could bring it home with her.
“Beauty will save the world”-Fyodor Dostoyevsky as quoted by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture, (NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB, 1970),