God’s Gardens: Co-creating Friendships Among Plants and People

Gardens represent a microcosm of our world. Given that the garden was God’s first work of art, it is humanity’s role to dress and keep the garden beautiful, to be fruitful and multiply all that is good. 

So how can we teach our children and youth to tend Earth’s garden – and their own inner growth?

The Baha’is of the world want to help with that task, and invite everyone to take part. Nourished by the transformational leadership capacities of a principle-based vision, the Baha’i ethic of unity in diversity, and creative initiative, Junior Youth at the Hillcrest Orchard Camp in Brooklyn, Wisconsin (July 6-10) experienced how certain plants, like people, thrive as companions in containers — all as flowers of one garden, as the Baha’i teachings put it:

Wherefore, O ye beloved of the Lord, bestir yourselves, do all in your power to be as one, to live in peace, each with the others: for ye are all the drops from but one ocean, the foliage of one tree, the pearls from a single shell, the flowers and sweet herbs from the same one garden.

In the youth-focused Transformational Leadership courses, our team’s ongoing co-creation of a more beautiful world sets the humble intention to strengthen children as seedlings “so that each may become a fruitful tree, verdant and flourishing.” 

Like plant life, each of us exists on this planet to serve a specific purpose and a greater cause. Through the experiential learning of the Companion Gardening program, children and youth cultivate the belief that members of humanity are flowers of one garden. 

Some of us are tough tolerant Echinacea, some are sweetly-scented roses with protective thorns, others are dainty chamomile that just want to soothe their neighbors. Pairs are companions on the spectrum of plant and people relationships and some pairs perhaps are what’s called in agriculture, antagonistic plants — crunchy cabbages which belong nowhere near the sweet strawberries. Many plants have complex needs for nutrients and can coexist in separate containers beautifully. There are also invasive thistles, which have medicinal “hearts” when properly processed. 

The Baha’i writings offer both practical and poetic wisdom on growing food and flowers – and on growing purposeful individuals. Baha’u’llah described agriculture as “a vital and important matter” that was foremost among the principles “… conducive to the advancement of mankind and to the reconstruction of the world.” Moreover, Abdu’l-Baha said, “… the fundamental basis of the community is agriculture, tillage of the soil.

Experiencing the Food and Flowers of One Garden

During the gardening workshops in our Transformational Leadership courses, the kids experienced an applied understanding of complex relationships among “plant families.” They learned to become caretakers of the garden, and through the playful self-care of savoring a moment to cool down in the mist of the hose, they began to mother themselves in the process. Tending to a small part of the planet participants from a variety of family/home lives deepened their understanding of the virtues of teamwork, patience, creativity, generosity, and self-sacrifice. Meanwhile, in the plant world, the geranium flower surrenders to a band of beetles so that the dahlia may live to attract pollinators for our food and flower friends. This disintegration makes way for integration — a reverent exchange of a wilting world for the gift of the new.

Service projects in nature included making the soil workable for an orchard of cherry and apple trees as well as Agriculture as Art in the form of harvesting edible flowers, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, and herbs for meals by day, and sleepytime lavender-mint tea from our “tea pots” (containers of herbal tea plants) by night. On Day 1, we explored the theme of Opening Up while soaking bush pea seeds, filing nasturtium seeds, cutting the eyes of seed potatoes, and measuring our hands as a way to gauge ongoing needs for spacing. On Day 2, we began companion planting potatoes inside our perimeter of dahlias, geraniums, flowering sage, alyssum, petunias, and basil. On Day 3, we continued to care for our garden, learned about container gardening design, and Gave the Peas a Chance in pots to take home.

Consider the flowers of a garden. Though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruit, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and color! Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof. In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest.

Understanding the Phases of Companion Planting

Applied understanding of unity in separateness and togetherness brought into fruition container and in-ground gardens as part of the greater whole. The Sovereign Gardeners become stewards in developing the following noble virtues: 

  1. Orderliness (establishing a layout with hopes and intentions with space for flexibility throughout the seasons, and weeding anything that prevents beneficial growth)
  2. Teamwork (mutually committing to one’s chosen roles and responsibilities)
  3. Respect (reverence for the plants and for one another)
  4. Support (building trellises for vining plants such as cucumbers) 
  5. Self-sacrifice (taking on extra work, choosing purpose over comfort so that the garden becomes more fruitful)
  6. Care and Kindness (being gentle with the plants and watering them when needed, not over-watering or under-watering based on individual needs) 
  7. Creativity (continually brainstorming ideas and exploring solutions for arising issues)
  8. Clear Communication (ongoing discussion on how to care for each plant, plant family, container, or plot)
  9. Detachment and Patience (surrendering to God’s mystery for the garden)

While practicing these virtues, children can learn the steps of creating a garden of companions and become inspired to implement this philosophy in their relationships with themselves, their friends, and their families:

  1. Sacred Flow: Establishing a Foundation of Rich, Healthy Soil. How can fertile soil invite a commitment to co-create joy, love, and group identity to make way for healthy corrections (amendments to the soil)? 
  2. Sacred Force: Defining the Container. What companions will we gently plant and how could they organically encourage one another’s growth? 
  3. Opening Up: Allowing Seeds to Open Up. Which seeds benefit from soaking and which, such as wildflowers, can be sown directly in the ground? 
  4. Timing: Planning Ahead. When should certain seeds be sown indoors in preparation for spring and summer? 
  5. Adversity: Accustoming Your Seedlings to Hardship. How can seedlings, like developing people, be transitioned from the home (indoors) to the garden (outdoors)?
  6. Spacing: Giving Each Plant Enough Room to Grow. What virtues can be developed by giving each plant the needed space for its roots to grow and receive nourishment? 
  7. Deadheading, Pruning, and Weeding: Disintegration Leading to Abundance. How can pinching wilted blooms, pruning dead branches, and uprooting certain invasive species create positive Integration? 
  8. Growing Together: Bestowing Kindness, Generosity, and Care. How can plants, like people, work to protect and love one another? How might spiritual sustenance compare to the use of fertilizer in the garden? 
  9. Clear Communication: Understanding Needs for Nourishment. How can people communicate clearly as trees quietly communicate their needs and send each other nutrients through a “wood wide web” of fungi buried in the soil? 
  10. Maturity Bringing Closeness: Forming an Agreement. How do plants, like people, co-create covenants in a defined container with specific soil, and grow close to one another with loving mutuality? 
  11. Harvesting: Savoring the Fruits of One’s Labor. What spiritual and physical health is experienced through the mindful use of food as medicine? 
  12. Dormancy, Death, and Rebirth: How does cutting down a dormant perennial such as Echinacea send energy to its roots for the flower to emerge the following season? What moral lessons can be learned from the resurrection of plants and the practice of composting? 

Diffusing a Fragrance, Leading Youth by Inspiration

Gardens offer wisdom in the way of nourishing healthy relationships among family and friends, establishing trust with oneself and with others, and basking in the floral beauty of sacred geometry. Embodying Abdu’l-Baha’s encouragement for “diffusing the fragrance of God in this new age,” this planting philosophy leads children and youth through gentle inspiration. Recognizing the forces of integration and disintegration as part of the unfolding of God’s great mystery, youth and adults alike are invited to open up to prayerful wisdom as hollow, readied reeds for positive change. 

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