The Soul of A Garden

– Posted in: Garden Visits

Although I’ve visited hundreds of gardens over the years, several of them more beautiful than words can express, it is rare when I leave one having experienced a kind of shiver, knowing that I have just witnessed something rare.

On a recent group tour to gardens in and around Haifa, I was ready to call it quits after lunch. But the group concensus was to continue on to the last garden scheduled for the day, in the heart of Haifa. When we arrived at our destination, over an hour later, the neighborhood looked a bit run down: it was on a hill, overlooking the city, was made up of what appeared to be older, low rise apartment buildings, several on stilts. I assumed that the garden would be nothing special and that we would be on our way within 30-45 minutes.

I had been given a bit of information about the owner beforehand.  As a 3 month old, he had been put on a train to Auschwitz with his parents. Somehow, his aunt had the courage to jump off, with him in her arms. He never saw his parents again, lived in Holland until his late teens and then moved to Israel. A garden designer his entire life, he had stopped practicing 5 years ago and was finally able to spend all of his time tending to his own creation.

As we stood at the back of the apartment house, he explained that originally he just started digging up the land, only to find that it was filled with stones. When his neighbors saw what was happening to their shared property, they called the police to complain. The police, after coming over to check out what the hullabaloo was all about, decided not to intervene.

And so this garden maker continued digging, chipping, chiseling, designing and building, laying stone upon stone, creating walls, grottos and havens for water elements.  As I walked down the first level of steep steps, wildflowers were growing in the crevices of the wall with roses planted in a narrow bed above it. Walking down several more steps, a grouping of outstanding brugsmanias, hovering over the garden, overpowered me. Each time when I landed at another level, I was surrounded by stone: the flowers scattered in narrow beds or container plantings built into the tops of stone walls were dwarfed. By the time I reached the bottom of the garden, I felt is if I had spiraled downward into what….I don’t know.

At each level, the garden’s walls and several of the walkways had been built of differerent sizes, shapes, and types of stones. They were intricate and enthralling but at the same time, for lack of a better word, incongruent. I felt nothing soothing about this space.

Any type of stone that he found on the property  ended up being  part of the garden. Remember, this is a man who dug and built everything that was in his garden by hand. For a person at any age, this would be a monumental undertaking; but it was obvious from his history that he had to be in his late 60s-early 70.

Although our group was captivated by what they saw and stood around conversing with him after the tour, I chose to walk up to the top level and onto the street in order to breathe some fresh air.

Any commentary I write about someone’s elses motivation or psyche is a guess based on my instincts.  Keeping that in mind, here’s what I think. The creator of this garden has suffered more than I can even dare to imagine. This garden was given birth from deep within his soul. It represents his attempt to create a safe haven; one that will  protect, calm and keep him from the mad world on the outside, the world that extinguished his parents, made him an orphan and forced him to be on his own at a young age. Miraculously, in spite of all of the horror he had experienced , this individual was and is still able to create a pulsating, breathing and unique work of art.

As he told us, he thinks and dreams about his garden all of the time. It is his life.

Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

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Joy April 10, 2010, 6:50 am

Fran .. what can I say ? This was truly a stunning post . It touches the root of all ours souls as gardeners .. I think many if not all of us have had experiences that could have almost shattered us. All in different degrees .. it changes us profoundly and having a garden seems to be the best “medicine” .. “peace” ? something that suits each individual soul some how.
This man’s story is utterly heart breaking , yet he was able to find “it” .. that certain something that calmed him .. gave him peace.
I am so glad to have read this post. Thank you !
Joy

Joy-
And thank you for your words. I have just finished a tour of private gardens in holland….and again, one of the gardens we visited, although a different story, left me in tears. the owner was a woman who spent 30 years creating the garden with her husband. they began preparing for this tour in the fall. he died this winter. working in the garden and knowing that journalists from throughout the world werer coming to visit helped to give her the strength to continue. and so another moving story about the power of gardening….fran

Lisa at Greenbow April 10, 2010, 7:28 am

What an interesting place. I can see that you were moved by it.

yes lisa…very much so. fran

Cameron (Defining Your Home) April 10, 2010, 8:46 am

Fran, I must admit that reading this story brought tears to my eyes. Your experience is one of the reasons why travel is so important to me. The culture and life stories discovered by travel will stay with you, to be treasured, forever. I was in Israel in 1983, and have the wish that everyone gets a chance to visit, especially Jerusalem. It’s an emotional journey.

Cameron-
am glad the post had meaning for you. and couldn’t agree more about israel. fran

allanbecker-gardenguru April 10, 2010, 9:46 am

What an awesome garden experience. The back story is indeed , chilling. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Allan-
it was my pleasure to do so. thanks for responding to it. fran

Chris April 10, 2010, 2:31 pm

What an interesting story and an awesome looking garden. Thanks for sharing

chris-
i had no choice but to share this experience. it left such a profound imprint on me. fran

Mr. McGregor's Daughter April 10, 2010, 5:52 pm

From the depths of pain and suffering, such beauty. Gardens can be a great source of healing, as this one shows.

MMD-
how true that is. fran

Jayne April 10, 2010, 8:56 pm

This man obviously gardens from the heart. His garden is truly part of him. Wonderful post, Fran. Thanks for allowing us to experience this wonder.

Jayne-
and thanks for responding to the post. Sharing the story with all of you on the gardening blogosphere was wonderful. fran

Loree / danger garden April 10, 2010, 10:02 pm

Thank you for sharing this visit with us.

Loree-
it was my pleasure. fran

Eileen April 11, 2010, 6:17 pm

I really enjoyed this posting. It is so unusual to see a garden such as this born out of such pain and so wonderful!

Eileen

Eileen-
i am staying open to listening for more of these stories. they are moving and as you said, wonderful. fran

GardeningGuyJohn April 12, 2010, 7:36 am

Thank you sharing a truly touching story and some amazing photographs. This garden looks magnificent, I especially like the area around the fountain.

GardeningGuyFountain-
thanks for your response. yes, the area around the fountain was pretty intense…fran

healingmagichands April 12, 2010, 12:10 pm

Wow. You gave me a shiver too, the whole post wrapped me up in the experience of this garden. And I thought I had done well using the stones we found here. Very humbling.

Healing Magic Hands-
am glad it had some meaning for you. thanks for sharing your response. fran

Gerry McCormick April 17, 2010, 12:22 pm

Fran,

I just read this article and felt a connection to this gardener. Gardens have such healing power for loss and pain! Thank you for writing such a beautiful article.

Gerry McCormick

Gerry McCormick

Gerry-
It is my pleasure to share this man’s journey with you. fran