A Garden Shared, or, A Metta-Physical Garden

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“How well the skillful gard’ner drew 

Of flow’rs and herbs this dial new, 

Where from above the milder sun 

Does through a fragrant zodiac run; 

And as it works, th’ industrious bee 

Computes its time as well as we. 

How could such sweet and wholesome hours 

Be reckon’d but with herbs and flow’rs!”


From The Garden by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)


In one of his most famous poems, the English metaphysical poet, Andrew Marvell, imagines that love inspires a contemplative life surrounded by nature. The poem takes the form of a meditation in a garden; it’s a meditation about sex, political ambition, and various other themes. Its famous lines about ‘Annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade’ are especially evocative of those significant moments of connectedness with nature. As a garden designer I'm lucky to have more than my fair share of such moments and the underlying philosophy is difficult to ignore.

Buddhism also prescribes the practice of metta, "loving-kindness" towards all creatures of all quarters without restriction. The Karaniyametta Sutta enjoins the cultivation of loving-kindness towards all creatures timid and steady, long and short, big and small, minute and great, visible and invisible, near and far, born and awaiting birth. All quarters are to be suffused with this loving attitude. Just as one's own life is precious to oneself, so is the life of the other precious to himself. Therefore a reverential attitude must be cultivated towards all forms of life.

And, looking out my back door (a reference for the Credence Clearwater Revival lovers out there!) onto our sun-baked summer lawn this July I see the familiar sight of a solitary blackbird digging up the lawn – presumably looking for grubs.

The Beatles song ‘blackbird’ springs to mind as I resist a designer’s temptation to be anxious about the perfection of the lawn and instead dare myself to delight in the fact that the garden is ‘providing’… it can be top-dressed when his work is done.

These moments capture one of the anchors of my design passion. As a student I was more interested in visual influences, but as I’ve matured my “design anchor” relates to something deeper, and, I think, more nourishing – it is the ecological value and creation of a space that acts as a microcosm of the wider world – creating a space that welcomes as many species of animal and fauna as possible: a shared garden!
However, I have to admit that my Buddhist utopia has its limits! I can’t bring myself to share too much with pests like slugs or rabbits – “dealing with gardens pests” is most certainly the subject for another blog!

We recently visited one of our gardens in full-summer bloom and were delighted to find it a hive of activity – butterflies and bees hard at work in a way that much of the wider arable farming land doesn’t provide for. The 40m border, that includes the likes of Origanum, Cenolophium , Digitalis, Salvias, Verbena, was literally humming with life… and it looks good!


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On a smaller scale an early morning a courtyard garden a walk finds bumble and honey bees happily feasting on the likes of Dianthus cruentus or Eryngium gigateum currently in full bloom. To be with these industrious creatures and witness their work knowing that, as the gardener, you have facilitated this environment feels great.


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Water is another wildlife bringer – and life-saver in the heat we’ve been treated to recently. A simple still water bowl can encourage the local bird community from herons to sparrows to come and wet their whistle!
Just don’t tip off the Jack Russels…


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