Scouting gardens with Saint Seraphim

This morning Sheryl and I scoured a few blocks on the north side of town, looking for gardens to include in this summer’s Buffalo in Bloom garden walk. A handful stood out as remarkable among those we saw, but nothing spectacular. Every one of them would be easily eclipsed by gardens in other parts of town where wealth and skill and connections are in greater supply.

One garden has lodged in my mind and heart, a humble thing fronting a modest house at the end of a dead-end street barely 50 yards long. Not even residents of the three or four other houses that share the street pass the little garden on their way in or out. The open end of the street gives only the barest hint that a garden may be there, and a high wall of trees completely obscures the view from whatever lies beyond the closed end. Credit Sheryl’s curiosity somehow with ever discovering this shy gem.

“Gem,” not because it’s a grand garden really but because it seems to so innocently reveal the heart of its creator (I assume the woman who came to the door to receive the information Sheryl left with her about the garden walk). For no one other than herself and perhaps someone who shares her house, she has transformed a tiny piece of earth that almost no one ever sees into an authentic expression of self, an act of creativity that seeks no other affirmation than simply that it exists, a gratuitous eruption of beauty for an audience of maybe one (two, if you count God).

Before starting our scouting expedition this morning, life brought me these words from St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This . . . will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.” Some judgment inevitably arose in our hearts as we sought examples to include in the garden walk. Which gardens do we include? Which do we leave out? There’s more to creating one garden, or any expression of one’s life, than can be judged against others or against an ideal. There’s the degree to which it expresses honesty, integrity, and authenticity, however easily overlooked it may be in the world’s obscure, dead-end byways.


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