Gardening is a Spiritual Practice

Paul Brunton, Vic, and David in the garden

Paul Brunton, Vic, and David in the garden

We walked through a maze of flowered paths in Montreux, Switzerland. My husband Vic rolled a ball with our young son David so I could talk with Paul Brunton, the elderly philosopher we’d come to visit. In 1973 during our first trip to visit PB, as we called him, the old sage took us to the gardens along Lake Geneva where we walked, admired flowers, and rested on wooden benches overlooking the lake. We visited PB for three days and walked through the gardens every day.

“The designer created these gardens as a meditation,” PB said. “This was his spiritual path.”

Years later, I remember the name of the gardens, Lakeside Promenade Fleuri, but can’t find the designer’s name. I don’t need to know his name to understand his mystical practice.

Planting snowpeas

Planting peas in early April

Harvesting in June

Harvesting in early July











When we returned home to our land in upstate New York, I noticed the deep peace I felt when I sat on the straw mulch and thinned lettuce or when I turned over the earth and raked it smooth for seeds.

Zucchini in July

Zucchini in July

Summer lettuce in July

Summer lettuce in July











I loved being with the plants and observing their growing cycles. My organic vegetables fed me and my family, but they also fed the pollinators and my soul.


Friends to keep out…

Friends to invite in...

Friends to invite in… (yellow garden spider)











“Who will eat all this food?” I asked my sons in the days after Vic’s death when we planted tomato and pepper seedlings, green beans, and more lettuce. Then, we weeded the vegetables I’d planted the month before. We talked about Vic and wept while we worked.

“It’s a great summer to give food away,” David said. He was right.

More than forty years after I understood gardening as a meditation, I still grow enough to give food away.

August harvest

August harvest

August harvest

August harvest











As I celebrate another bountiful harvest, I hope my photos give you a taste of the peace I find on my garden paths when I can’t quiet my mind on a meditation cushion.

I learned so much from Paul Brunton–from his books, time spent with him in Switzerland and the United States, and working with many others on the posthumous publication of The Notebooks of Paul Brunton. Nothing I learned brought more comfort than the Path of Gardening.

August garden bursting with food

August garden bursting with food


Are you a lover of plants? Do you grow vegetables, flowers, houseplants, or nothing at all?  I often share photos of flowers and butterflies, but vegetables are beautiful, too. The vegetable garden has wide mulch paths where I walk and sit while I tend the plants. That’s the most peaceful place for me. Willow likes it, too. For other posts about my relationship with plants and my land, see Planting Joy in a Season of Sorrow or Remember What You Love: Deep Friendship and Thriving Plants.


  1. Your garden is beautiful and your pictures also. Another thing that I find very meditative is picking berries

    • Thanks, Patt. I often share photos of the flowers (and weeds) but this time it’s the vegetables. I didn’t mention that Paul Brunton was a dedicated vegan. I love picking my raspberries, but there were only a few this year because of dryness. Willow and I enjoyed them right off cane. She gets the low ones.

  2. It’s lovely you get such joy and share your bounty with others from your garden Elaine. I miss my gardens after living in hones and starting them all from scratch. Now living in a condo, I have my few indoor plants and summer baskets of impatience hanging on the balcony because it doesn’t get full sun. I used to love my garden, going out to monitor the daily growth and blooms. Even picking out the weeds was therapeutic. 🙂

    • I agree, Debby. Monitoring, visiting, weeding, planting–all therapeutic. I’m pretty sure I’d have a patio full of shade lovers if I lived in a condo. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.

      • Lol, of course I ended up with 6 planters on my extra large balcony which I was grateful for. The excessively hot days were hard on some of them. It seems the Impatience held up the strongest. 🙂

        • It’s hard to kill impatience unless it’s cold–and it hasn’t been cold. I imagine I’ll always grow plants in pots if I don’t have a garden space. It’s wonderful to watch them thrive under our care.

  3. Elaine, I too am a gardener who finds peace among the plants. And yes, it is a spiritual practice … a sweet mediation on our dear earth and how we can honor her instead of ravishing her. When we are caring for our gardens we are also caring for ourselves and all of the being who find the garden their home.

    • I agree with everything you say, Joan. I visit my gardens most mornings to admire them, figure out what the plants need from me and, this time of year, see what needs harvesting. I groan under the weight of ripe tomatoes, but the frozen packages make wonderful soups and sauces when the weather cools. The process of “putting up” has begun. Both my grandmas would be proud of me. My mother would roll her eyes and be glad I do very little compared to the old days of a cellar filled with stored carrots and potatoes and jars of fruits, sauces, and preserves.

  4. I love to garden! I have not ever grown vegetables but I keep threatening to give it a try. I worry about all the details of making them safe to eat! Silly. My Dad had a lovely garden about the size of yours and kept us well fed on all sorts of yummy foods! I remember picking rhubarb out of the garden and just munching it down all the while enjoying the puckering f my cheeks! I invest my time in flowers and plants. When spring arrives and I can did in the dirt again life takes a decided turn for the better. The summer heat usually prevails and drives me inside again, but gardening is always restorative.

    • Thanks for your stories, Dorothy. Raw rhubarb. You were one tough kid. My first garden was in 7th grade in the backyard. My gardening guru was my dad. Both my grandmothers were gardeners, but my mother was hopeless with plants. My garden looks large, but it’s 1/3 the size it once was and much of it is flowers now–gladiolas which I plant each year, but self-seeding poppies, calendula, cleome, dill, and a few other beauties loved by pollinators. Both my sons love gardening. My husband was willing to do all the big work like rototilling, but had no patience for weeding. That’s my favorite. I sit on the hay, weed, and thin.

  5. I’m proud of you too, Elaine. Very proud for keeping all this going year after year.

    In our new place we’d never grow a garden. The deer have nibbled at my impatiens, so I’ve moved them to the lanai where they’ll get enough sun to sustain them. Now I must remember to water them.

    Your post called to mind some poetry displayed in the living room when I was a child. I don’t remember whether it was stitchery on a pillow or framed embroidery, but here it is: “The kiss of the sun for pardon / The song of the birds for mirth / You’re nearer God’s heart in a garden / than any place here on earth.” ~ Dorothy Frances Gurney

    All my forebears grew contentment in their gardens and fields, supplied their pantries and cellars with food and brought “fancy” into their plain lives with gaudy flowers, those blooms – sexy looking too!

    • I know that prayer/poem, Marian. I’m not sure when I heard it first, but a long time ago. Deer are problems, but there’s plenty they don’t eat here–including impatiens. You must have hungry urban deer. In town here, they devour everything. Yes, those flowers are fancy. I’m naturally on the plain side in my tastes, so I think that’s one reason I love their extravagance. This year, the Angel’s Trumpets perfume my home with night-blooming blossoms an inch across. Fancy.

  6. I absolutely love that last photo of Willow in the garden. To me, it speaks of peace and plenty. This summer I spent a lot of time, energy, and money on my garden areas around the house and pond. I decided that tending the land would be my “summer vacation” this year. And after hours of arranging rocks and weeding each day, my dog and I love to walk around the grounds in the evenings admiring “our” work.

    • I get it, Robin. Vic and I called those evening walks through the gardens “boring flower walks.” They were “boring” only because we took a similar walk to the same places over and over again. We were never bored. I’m still not bored. Willow is respectful about what’s hers and what’s mine. Believe it or not, she enjoys chewing on a raw zucchini. I can’t offer her tomatoes because she likes them too much. I had to teach her not to steal them. They’re mine!

  7. Having come from generations of gardeners and farmers, I should be more of a gardener than I am now. We used to raise tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and green beans, but now we don’t even do that. Our back yard is red clay and rocky. It would take work to make it truly fertile. We decided, with our travel schedule, to support the local farmer’s market instead.

    Your photos make me a little envious, however, Elaine.

    I am going to a place full of wise monks. Which one will become my PB?

    • Let’s rejoice that you support the local farmer’s market. They need you. I’ve been working on this soil since 1972 when Vic and I were just kids and had the energy to make this mess of a house and this neglected land into what it could be. I wouldn’t do it again. Of course, I love the photo-ops.

      Where are you going, Shirley? It may be in your latest blog so I can find out there. I’m curious. We may not need new teachers the way we once did. Instead we can enjoy their company and wisdom. I look around at the major teachers in my life and realize they’re all on the other shore except the Dalai Lama. Who will carry on what they taught? I think it’s up to us. (PB died in 1981. Vic and I spent six weeks with him in Switzerland just four months before he died. An unforgettable time.)

  8. Lovely post, Elaine. My mom loved to garden and I have a friend who adores it as well. I like to putter with flowers and a tomato plant here or there, but have never had the patience or commitment to do more than that. I wish I did – so many people do find it to be great therapy, not to mention the bounty of wonderful fresh vegetables. Your garden looks beautiful. I’m glad you’ve found this to be such a source of peace and relaxation. Sending love and wishes for a happy birthday across the miles. xoxo

    • Thank you, sweet Ann. You don’t have time to garden! You’re growing Alzheimer’s support and cures. Thank you for all you do. Sending love back to you.

  9. That was beautiful, Elaine. I think it’s wonderful that you share some of the food you grow with others. I’d bet they really appreciate it. Fresh vegetables taste a million times better than anything you can find at the grocery story.

    • Thank you, Lydia. Yesterday a friend came to cook and share dinner with me. She left with lettuce, Swiss chard, small zucchini, basil, and tomatoes. It’s a bountiful organic harvest this year. I don’t always have this much extra, but I’m glad when it isn’t wasted.

  10. Lovely post and photos Elaine thank you! My late mother used to grow veg using Findhorn principles, talking to them, admiring and encouraging them, playing classical music to them 🙂 Believe me we had the tastiest everything. And so large! We’d have nasturtium leaves in our school sandwiches – so delicious. Much more I could write about then …

    I enjoy my much smaller garden here at our townhouse. I find that as I weed, remove dead leaves or stunted growth, making room for new growth, that this reminds me of removing dead wood from my psyche, a much needed task. And I love to admire the flowers and plants and tell them so …

    • You have a long history of living things I’ve only read about–like Nelson Mandala and Findhorn. How interesting to grow up in that world. I love tending the plants in a smaller way in the winter and think a tiny garden would suit me, too. My garden soil from years of organic enrichment and healthy practices is like potting soil. My vegetable garden is a little wild and looks much larger than it is because I let flowers self-seed there. When I had a family here, the garden was at least twice as big. Now it’s half the size with much left with wildish self-seeding flowers. A dry year with hose watering has made for the healthiest, most productive plants ever. I’m giving lots away.

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