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Soil for the Soul: Becoming a Gardener

Updated on June 18, 2013

Becoming a Gardener

One of my favorite poems by William Wordsworth is “The Tables Turned.” I first read this poem in junior high school high and adored it. After countless further readings, this poem continues to resonate with me. Here it is:

UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;

Or surely you'll grow double:

Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;

Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun, above the mountain's head,

A freshening lustre mellow

Through all the long green fields has spread,

His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:

Come, hear the woodland linnet, 10

How sweet his music! on my life,

There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!

He, too, is no mean preacher:

Come forth into the light of things,

Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,

Our minds and hearts to bless--

Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,

Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood

May teach you more of man,

Of moral evil and of good,

Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--

We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;

Close up those barren leaves;

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.


Wordsworth claims in this poem that books are “toil and trouble.” Instead, he offers people a different path to gain knowledge by claiming that by listening to the birds sing, a person can “come forth into the light of things.” Humans gain knowledge by studying the natural world, and then capture that information into books for other people’s consumption. However, Wordsworth urges his readers to go back to the source of that knowledge which is nature.

On top of this, he claims that “One impulse from a vernal wood/May teach you more of man,/ Of moral evil and of good,/Than all the sages can.” Wordsworth seems to be arguing that personal experiences with nature can be more edifying than the words of the sages. Nature can teach people about itself, other creatures, and ourselves on a greater level than anything else. Wordsworth demands that people “Come forth, and bring with you a heart/ That watches and receives.” Wordsworth wants people to realize that they must pay attention to nature with open hearts and minds in order to “receive” or gain anything from it. If people are negative or closed minded towards their environment they will not reap any spiritual benefits.

Once upon a time, I became friends with a television character, David the Gnome. Of course I was not conscious of David’s impact on me at the time it occurred. I was only about four years old. I knew that David was not a real person, but he was still inspiring. Even so, eventually he faded into my unconscious to be revealed two decades later.

What happened was, I came home from a lovely vacation in Michigan visiting with my family to find that my husband had three mysterious boxes piled up in my living room. He informed me that they contained books which the library at the school where he worked was discarding. Of course, unable to tolerate such disrespect for knowledge occur, he rescued the books and provided them sanctuary in our home. Upon opening the boxes I found copies of great works by Jane Austen, Herman Hesse, Charles Dickens, and Shakespeare. I was appalled and astonished at the boxes contents. Who could just throw out such great works of literature? Yet, even Wordsworth proclaimed, “Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife.”

Sifting eagerly through all of the newly acquired books, I found an interesting large hardback book. The cover had a front and back view of an elderly garden gnome with the typical sharply pointed cap, boots, beard, and belted tunic. The book was aptly titled Gnomes. I quickly opened it to read the internal jacket and found that the book was written as a mockery of science, yet was also full of traditional herbal lore. I began flipping through the pages briefly glimpsing at the various illustrations. Somehow the book seemed vaguely familiar to me, although I had never read it. After a moment, I set it aside to find dwellings for the massive quantity of new books. However, I found that I was unable to concentrate on that chore. My mind kept drifting back to the gnome book. I sat down in my old comfy chair to inspect the book more closely. It reminded me of Brian Froud’s Fairies based on how the illustrations and writing were formatted, as well as how the wee people were treated as corporeal beings.

Upon reading, I began to comprehend that the book contained views on nature, animals, and healing that I believed in. The gnomes created their own natural energy sources. They used aromatherapy, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. They were also “benevolent allies of wild animals.”

For some reason, I thought that my husband might remember or know something that I didn’t, so I showed him the book and asked him if it seemed reminiscent of anything. Upon a glance, he told me that it was just like the Nickelodeon cartoon David the Gnome. I leapt on the information, immediately grabbing my laptop and searching youTube for a video. It was there, the first episode of David the Gnome. I immediately began watching it.

The voice of Christopher Plummer as the narrator commenced by describing the world of nature full of different creatures, and the only skyscrapers are the trees. It is a world where the only noises are those of animals having their own discussions and the air is perfectly clean. Then he describes a human city where there is too much noise and pollution. It felt like someone had just smacked my cranium as a deluge of memories gushed past my mind’s eye.

As a child, I remembered spending rainy days watching David the Gnome. David would complain about hunters with their guns disrupting the peace of the forest, and polluting the waters so that the fish can’t breathe. Gnomes had respect and love for nature and all the creatures of the world. I recalled how after an episode where I was told that the natural world was out there just waiting for me to come to it, I would. I always went outside to play in the garden.

Of course, I had the luxury of a beautiful garden to play in and explore. Growing up, my mother maintained luscious gardens swelling with trees, bushes, flowers, and vegetables. I could hide under the bushes and play with the tiny toadstools which would pop up like magic in the overnight dew, or sit and have a tea party with the toads under a tree. Our garden was full of creatures to observe, and I found them all interesting. I adored how they would all just go about their own business and barely take notice of me as long as I kept out of their way.

Yet, the garden was also a place of refuge. When family fights were occurring I could go hide in the bushes and ignore whatever was taking place within the house. Those times, it was as if nature was kissing away my sorrows with her gentle, fragrant wind and dancing clouds daring me not to smile. As a child, it was always in those moments when I wished to turn away from the human world so desperately that I was able to discern something indescribable in nature that nothing else could provide.

In my memory, that garden is a sacred space. It always will be. It has been altered significantly over the years since my mother left it to move to Michigan, however it shall forever exist in my memory, providing me comfort and joy, exactly what David the Gnome had claimed about nature. I was bewildered to discover that the media had had such a strong influence on the development of my beliefs. Did that mean that what I believed was wrong? Certainly not. I had to look deep into myself and consider this. Obviously, I had a new perspective of things. Yet, going outside onto my front porch to think about things only helped reinforce my beliefs. The air was tainted with the smell of dog food from the factory across town. I could hear car horns blasting and tires screeching. I could see across the river smoke billowing out of buildings. Glancing down the street, I saw trash floating on the wind and rolling across the brick road.

I found truth in what David the Gnome and the narrator had claimed. Introspection assured me that regardless of the medium there was no reason to reject the message. A non-existent gnome who helped me learn to value the natural world was just as informative (maybe more so) as the science teacher who told me to collect worms to bring to class for observation. David excited and tantalized my imagination, and science made me feel sorry for all the creatures who were removed from their homes. I certainly would not have taken worms to school, if I had known the lesson involved cutting the worms to observe them regenerate.

The gnomes provided me with a perspective of humanity, one where humans or at least adults were not to able to have a positive relationship with their environment. On the other hand, the gnomes were at one with nature. Fictional or not, they inspired within me the desire to form the same kind of bond with nature that they had. I suppose I might thank David, because I have never felt that I had to force myself to try and communicate with nature. As a child, it was something that came naturally to me. The world always had something new and exciting to show me, and I always tried to be outside to see it.

As an adult, I have been able to maintain my child’s eyes. I go outside and work (although I consider it to be more like play) in the garden. There are always new plants to discover that have somehow planted themselves into my garden. Just the other day I found a bluebell blooming and growing in my shade garden under the catalpa tree. I had planted it three years ago, and it had not come back after the first winter. However, it finally managed to surface. Upon seeing it, beautiful and mysterious slightly hidden by the astilbes, my heart leapt with joy. I was so giddy I made my children and husband come out to see it. My girls were in awe and happy like me. My husband was unimpressed.

Although my husband, Nathan, was the one able to recall the image of David the Gnome, obviously David did not have as strong of an impact on him. Nathan also did not have the luxury of a garden to play in as a child. Instead, his mother had two acres for him to mow every week with a push mower. He had never had good opportunities to enjoy nature instead it simply meant toiling with grass and weeds. He has never sensed the magic that resides within the living greenery, doing so as a child would have been the opportune time. He would have been far more open minded to it then compared to as an adult now.

I have asked him to assist me in the garden since I hope that he will eventually come to regard nature as I do, as that which gives and takes life of its own purity. He combats me with the claim that he does not have a green thumb. I have attempted to explain to him that a green thumb is not something inherited like a hitchhiker’s thumb. A green thumb is something which is earned through knowledge, practice, and experience. Literally, a green thumb is evidence of a gardener and it isn’t just a green thumb. It is the green thumbs it is green and brown stains on a person’s skin that comes from working in the garden and toiling with the soil and weeds. It is not just the thumb. It is indicated on all of the fingers of a gardener’s hands. The skin is stained from all of the work done.

Too often, people claim that either they have a green thumb or they don’t. I don’t buy it. You have to learn about you, establish a connection with them (the plants), some sort of relationship. You have to care and be aware of them. You have to treat them like you would your own child, learning as you go, as with parenting, to a certain extent. However, my husband simply does not care. He is a nihilist and claims that nothing has any meaning so working in the garden would be pointless.

I disagree. On the most basic of terms, a garden is just an area of ground where someone has planted fruits, vegetables, or flowers which are growing. However, this is a sparse definition. My requirements for what defines a garden are far more detailed. A garden is a plot of ground, and it is a place where various forms of vegetation are grown. However, a garden is a place of personal-self expression. It is also a place where nature is given the freedom to express herself as well. A garden is a place that provokes emotions within the people who view it or enter it. There are many types of gardens and a multitude of garden designs, but they are not all devised by people. Personally, most woods that I enter are a garden. They are an expression of nature unhindered by humanity.

Creating a garden is one way for a person to exhibit some form of control over their surroundings. I think that one thing that is very distinct about humanity in comparison to other creatures is that people do not only feel the need to etch a home for themselves and basic sustenance, they have to have some form of control over their environment to satisfy their fears of it.

You have the tools necessary to begin your own garden, so get to it.


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    • Drea DeFoe profile imageAUTHOR

      Drea DeFoe 

      6 years ago


      I could not agree more. Wordsworth was an amazing poet with a significant amount of insight.


    • PHILLYDREAMER profile image

      Jose Velasquez 

      6 years ago from Lodi, New Jersey

      I believe practical experience is just as valuable as book smarts. This poem is an amazing example of it.


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