City Living: The Joy of an Urban Garden

This is my little urban back garden.  Isn’t it cute?  It’s one of the features of our tall terraced house I proudly show off from the kitchen window and again from the second floor window whenever anyone comes round to visit.  If you’ve been here, you’ve no doubt heard me gush.

This past Saturday night, after an epic wind storm, I woke from a light sleep with a startle.  The wind and the unusually brilliant sun the day before had caused me to realize something I couldn’t quite believe.   I embarrassingly had to admit that as many times as I had smiled at my garden from behind a glass window, I had never actually set foot in it.  Not once in the 9 weeks we have lived here.  

Sure it’s been winter and not exactly time to be hanging out in the garden but had I really been that preoccupied with exploring everything out my front door that I never even bothered to open the back door of my own house?  The answer was yes.  Though there was no one calling me to account and because it was the dark of night, I honestly felt a little fraudulent for having bragged about a place I hadn’t yet taken the small investment of time to get to know.  My own back yard.

The garden isn’t on the way to anywhere.  There is no exterior gate.  In fact, the only way to get to it is through the house, through one set of doors on the ground floor – a floor of the house we rarely use.  This past Sunday afternoon, as it was my first visit, I fumbled opening the ground floor door.  I brought with me the modest-sized Clean Green bag we ordered when we moved in and found where my traveling husband had left the rake, broom and dustpan.  I thought to enlist my children to help but soon decided it was probably a one person job.  It was.  I didn’t know enough to give instruction yet. 

The wind storm had knocked a lot of leaves and branches down and so the bag filled quickly.   As I moved around the perimeter of the garden, I couldn’t help but notice how much bigger the tree in the center of the garden looked from ground level.  How it provided shelter over the entire space - and not just my garden. I picked up as many leaves as would fit in the bag, knowing that a single bag would not get the job done.  I swept up debris that had collected in the corner.  I noticed where new buds on the trees were forming.  I imagined a time when the garden would be in full bloom.  I marveled at how such a green oasis could exist in such a dense, concrete space.   The 45 minutes felt like 10 minutes.  It was invigorating.  The bag was full but the job wasn’t done.   I have decided to do it again next Sunday.   

It’s got me thinking about how we all get so busy with the demands of life, the season we are in, the density of our time – we bypass the work it takes to enter into our inner lives.  We assume we can get to it later.  We think viewing what’s going on in the garden of our hearts can be short circuited behind the safety and comfort of a glass window.  But there is so much going on at ground level that can’t be seen from a window.   

It often takes a wind storm for us to finally crack open the door and tend to the first order of mess.   You could hire the clean-up work out but not without handing over the keys to your house.  If you’re willing to find a rake and grab a bag, once the downed branches are cleared, you have the chance to take inventory of where things are growing and dying and shedding and being made new.  The bag will fill up quickly at the start but the invigoration of seeing visible progress in such a short time is a kindness that invites us back.  The theologian Eugene Peterson says, “Our deep center gets buried under the everyday debris of routine and chatter, while we shuffle about out of touch and unaware of our true selves.”

An unseasonably warm day could happen tomorrow.  Someone could come over to your house in need of a breath of fresh air.  Will you point to your garden from the window or will you fumble with the back door making it obvious your garden isn’t ready for company? Or will you throw open the door and say, “Check this out!  This is my little space in a noisy world.  Can you imagine what it will be like in full bloom?”