The Garden of Truth and Temptation
© 2008 June Johnson

Gardening provides an example of how Natural Law encourages us to apply an awakened mind, attuned to spirit, to all our endeavors. Reverence leads us to Knowledge which will express in Assurance. When we raise our awareness to mirror the Ideas of Spirit, love guides us to:

  1. Plan with clear intent;
  2. Develop awareness of Nature’s laws;
  3. Apply discrimination between thoughts and facts; and
  4. Practice selfless service.

United States founding father Thomas Paine, quoted in the May 2003 National Spiritualist Summit, advised, “study creation not theology, for in creation, we can know God, through His Work.”

For six years my job was to help customers select and purchase outdoor plants in a busy garden center. I came to perceive this workplace as The Garden of Truth and Temptation. Truth, because our manager encouraged us to be honest about the characteristics of the plants on sale, and Temptation, because many customers, despite counsel, are determined to buy what their thought is set on—dismissing possible negative consequences. This has given me a unique opportunity to observe the operation of Spiritualism’s Seventh Principle: “We affirm the moral responsibility of individuals, and that we make our own happiness or unhappiness as we obey or disobey Nature’s physical and spiritual laws.” The deliciously fragrant gardenia and large tropical hued blooms of hibiscus are particularly irresistible, yet challenging to maintain in our temperature controlled San Francisco climate.

My observations can be summarized in the words of a bumper sticker spotted in town: “Don’t believe everything you think.”

The teachings of the Reverend Florence Becker, founding pastor of the Golden Gate Spiritualist Church, explain that whereas thoughts may be either right or wrong, ideas, which she defined as being spiritual substance, consistently transmit Truth. “The Mind is a mirror,” she said, “constantly reflecting thoughts from our brain or ideas from our soul.” Her understanding invites us to raise our awareness to mirror the ideas of spirit. Facts lead us to realization and ideas.

She would also have us affirm that the Spirit of Infinite Intelligence operates within and through each of us, permeating our Being with the Power of Right Action, and that Infinite Intelligence recognizes the possibility of applying the awakened mind to all our actions. Roy Strong, in his book, Creating Small Gardens, says, “Garden design actually precedes the horticultural side of gardening.“ In other words, take time to study the overall layout of your garden before you go shopping for plants.

Strengthening Our Connection to Spirit Calls for Us to Plan Ahead, with Clear Intent

Strong tells us, “The great architects of the renaissance, the period in which western gardening was born, designed both the exteriors and the interiors of their buildings, as well as the gardens. They were thought of as one . . . .”

He recommends we intend to make our garden a harmonious extension of our life and home.

Think about the use you want to make of your garden. What is your ideal goal? Clear intent is the most essential part of creating a satisfying outcome—and planning with that purpose in mind is the part most apt to be neglected. Browsing through books or magazines would help you realize the features you value that would be consistent with the style of your home. Measure your plot and draw a ground plan to scale. Note the impact of surrounding trees and buildings. Mr. Strong recommends taking photos from inside the windows of the house to help you envision what you would like to see when you look out, what you’d like to screen and what you’d like to feature. Mark such elements on your drawing, as well as the location of existing water faucets, doorways, and materials you’d like to keep. Draw a big arrow pointing North.

If you cover this basic drawing with tracing paper, you can sketch various possibilities for new paths, steps, a patio—how large a space would you need for a table and chairs? Might you want a fountain or sculpture?

Consider how much time and effort you’re willing to spend on maintenance—raised beds, a watering system, or drought tolerant solutions may prove indispensable. Then draw in where you’d like to place additional trees, hedges or vines. Next, indicate flower beds and ground covers.

Gary Zukav, in his book The Seat of the Soul, writes:

We see that when the activities of life are infused with reverence, they come alive with meaning and purpose. . . . .The physical arena is a magnificent learning environment. It is a school within which, through experimentation, we come to understand what causes us to expand and what causes us to contract, what causes us to grow and what causes us to shrivel, what nourishes our souls and what depletes them, what works and what does not.

Approach your decisions with reverence for truth—the truth about you as well as of the natural world. Being realistic and honest with yourself now will not only bring you a deeply satisfying outcome, it will save time, money and grief later. The attitude of searching for truth opens our minds to receive knowledge of facts, which expresses in a growing sense of assurance that we are taking the right action. Knowledge, Reverence, and Assurance form the third triad of the Reverend Florence Becker’s Spiritual Faculties of Being. “Through the faculties,” she said, “come visible expression of ideas—that draws with ties of love into your universe a perfect harmony where meaning speaks.”

Isn’t that a beautiful description of what we truly want?

With your plan you are ready to investigate the characteristics of the plants available to meet your specific needs.

Most people come to a plant store looking for bold color. To keep color in stock, a nursery typically changes or replenishes the bedding plants from week to week. The only flower guaranteed to “bloom all year”—and there’s a lot of requests for this—is plastic.

Not everyone knows that annuals put all their energy into the flowers and self-destruct at the end of the season; while the more sedate perennials, which live longer than a year, take a periodic rest from blooming to put energy toward establishing sturdy roots.

People gravitate toward plants with a nostalgic association with past pleasures and comforts—loading their carts with pots of roses, lavender, morning glory vines, fig trees, heritage tomatoes, bananas, even redwood trees.

Customers often express surprise that a favorite plant needs eight or more hours of direct sun to produce blooms, or requires a sheltered location, or will die at the end of the season. Many people who live among taller city buildings and have a lot of shade long for sun loving flowers. The various and wonderful plants which thrive in shade and part shade seem unfamiliar or not intensely colorful enough.

Plants are sensitive to the quality of light—and to the number of hours of direct sun per day. They remind us of the importance of the directions, and to notice how the sun changes position through the seasons, the effects of clouds or an occasional heat wave. A significant number of our customers, when asked, confessed to having no idea which direction their garden faces or how many hours of sun it gets.

A Garden Is a Great Place to Develop Awareness of Nature’s Laws

Even a pot of strawberries offers a connection to the land and the excitement of a harvest if you pay attention to a few basic requirements. Well located plants are healthy and more insect and disease resistant.

Plants that like part sun and part shade, like strawberries, are happiest in east facing, morning sun areas, or in filtered sun. West facing, afternoon sun areas require plants that can tolerate both half a day of shade and hot afternoon sun. A plot on the south side of a building, receiving sun all day, is a full sun garden. The north side of a two or three story building, although it receives some sun in the summer when the earth tips toward the south, is essentially a shade garden.

I met a gardener who has as a client a business woman used to having her way. She demands to have rose bushes planted along the north side of her house. The gardener explained that roses will not do well there as they need good sun. The customer responded that she wanted roses there and was willing to pay for it. So, with a shrug, the gardener sprays repeatedly against aphids, rust and mildew, and frequently replaces the bushes as there isn’t adequate sun in our cool coastal climate to maintain the health of the shrubs or to generate new buds.

To what extent do we humans consistently override truth—even when we’re aware of it—to get what we think we want? Reverence for God’s work and Natural Law requires that we consider the needs of the plant for space, light, air, water and food.

Plants Teach Us to Apply Discrimination Between Our Thoughts and Facts

I found if a customer is receptive, it’s a pleasure to ask about their garden and show them a range of plants that will live happily in their environment. If a customer seems closed to advice, I had to make an effort not to interfere. “Gardening is always an experiment,” I’d say. It may take two or three such “experiments” before a person becomes willing to consider reality. It is not an evil person who fails to heed nature’s laws, but an unready one.

Customers also often ask for the fastest growing trees, hedges or vines to meet their desire for quick coverage, frankly stating: “I want instant gratification.”

A one to five gallon size hedge looks so innocent and manageable, when told how big it could get they respond, “I can prune it, can’t I?” The reality is, pruning is a lot of hard work—year after year after year.

And when asked, “What size do you want it to be when it’s full grown? Some would answer, “That doesn’t matter, I won’t be there that long.” This never failed to startle me.

If you live in the city on a twenty-five foot wide lot, do you really want to be responsible for planting a tree that will grow to blanket the entire yard in shade and block your neighbor’s sun as well? The removal of that tree, grown to shade the entire yard, and still growing, is going to become a major expense—for someone—sometime. And do you seriously want to plant a vine that grows 25 feet in one season—each and every year after year after year? What about the elderly couple next door who can’t afford the cost, in time or energy, to battle the invasion of your vine—as it continues past your lot into their garden year after year?

Although temptation wants it now, the desire for instant gratification can create harm. The search for truth aligns us with our moral responsibility and the timelessness of spirit, helping us think further ahead to the foreseeable consequences of today’s actions.

The selection and care of plants is an ideal teacher to help us learn to think beyond our personal interests. A pet bird, even in a cage, can call out to us; cats, dogs and people in our care can pester us to remind us they need food or water—but plants are silent to ordinary hearing and unable to move about. They seldom signal immediately when low on food or water. It becomes our responsibility to think of them.

Plant Care Requires That We Practice Selfless Service

The Reverend Florence Becker once said:

You will never be happy by living for self and its gratification alone. It is only as you share and become interested in another’s success as well as your own that you become Selfless—This has much to do with health as well as wealth. This Love or Give and Take Plan guarantees your talents will increase for Love paves the Way that produces Light that leads to Supernal Heights of Knowledge and Divine Wisdom.

“Regret Nothing—” she continued, “what has passed do not identify yourself with it. Forget it and gain your lesson from it—then truly your Wagon has been hitched to the star in God’s garden.”

To the extent we nurture our plants, they reward us many times over. If we give in to temptation and make a poor choice, or if we lose a plant out of neglect, we can discard that plant without serious remorse, gain our lesson from it and move toward greater harmony with the universe.

Allow Reverence to lead you to Knowledge which will express in Assurance. Raise your awareness to mirror the Ideas of Spirit, allowing Love to guide you to: plan with clear intent; develop awareness of Nature’s Laws; apply discrimination between thoughts and facts; and practice selfless service. Aim high in your intent. Aspire to hitch your wagon to the star in God’s garden.

June: Essays