February 28, 2014 admin


It all came out of staring at a patch of mud and weeds. Then I found I had a bag too much of horse manure in the back of the car. (There’s nothing quite like shovelling the stuff into sacks on a cold February day: the warmth of the hay, the sweet and acrid smell of life.) So I dug the contents, and that of twenty more bags, into the soil and ordered six kilos of seed potatoes.
It was after Pesach that this became Leslie Lyndon’s and my shared project; rabbi and chazzan digging the synagogue garden together, – there has to be something symbolic in that. The potatoes sprouted, the sunflowers grew tall, the courgettes produced green and yellow fruits. People stopped us to chat: ‘What’s that you’re growing there? How’s the corn doing?’ We put ourselves on the waiting list to host Gardener’s Question Time.
The children from the pre-school joined us to harvest the potatoes; I wondered how many had ever lifted a tuber out of the furrow before, or seen the secret of the growth of chips and crisps. We sold the courgettes for a donation to any charity which fed the hungry. Someone made a vegetable casserole and took it to the Drop-In for asylum seekers. People went home from the synagogue carrying the unanticipated burden of a sack of potatoes.
It was at a conference in Edinburgh that I met the lady who told me about her project. Every time she went to visit her husband, who sadly couldn’t be cared for at home, she’d find herself staring at the waste ground behind the hospital building. Slowly she turned it into a garden; gradually everyone joined her, patients, families, staff: ‘What’s that we’re growing over there?’ ‘It used to be a rubbish-heap’, she said, ‘and many of the patients used to feel that they were rubbish too. But aren’t we gardeners all?’
I hadn’t realised how many people had noticed the patch in front of our synagogue. A group of ten-year-olds accosted me: ‘We want them crysanthemums!’ I hadn’t thought plants were cool. I asked the children at Gan Alon nursery what they might like: ‘Sweet corn and strawberries’, they answered, so sweet corn and strawberries it shall be, (in addition to the potatoes, sunflowers and courgettes.) It’s all good news for the local blackbirds, thrushes and tits.
‘God planted a garden in Eden to the east’, says the Book of Genesis, describing God’s first horticultural venture. But there’s no such a thing as a garden which isn’t God’s garden, and isn’t the command to ‘tend it and look after it’ God’s everlasting instruction about loving and respecting this world? After all, to whom do the earth and the seasons belong? People know it, too. Those who might never step inside a temple, synagogue or church see wonder in the snowdrops, feel before the wild plum and the almond blossom the touch of a gentle heaven.
All that was last year’s affair. But this year’s labours have now begun. You’ll see as you walk towards the synagogue that we’re having two raised beds constructed. A person in a wheelchair will be able to circumnavigate them too, brush a hand against orange-scented thyme, plant crocuses, pick a strawberry or a courgette (with a little bit of luck).
We may never say the word aloud, but I hope that garden will put the feeling of baruch in our minds, baruch which means blessed, – blessed this world, blessed this life, blessed the vitality that makes the leaf unfurl, the flower open and the embryo fruits set. For a garden is the prayer before the prayers begin, God’s place in which is set God’s house.

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