I became interested in the environment before I became interested in Earth-based spirituality. When I joined a conservation group, removing invasive rhododendrons, at age 16 in college, I was still a practising Catholic. A few years later I lived close to the Greenpeace headquarters (in Islington, London) and I volunteered for their campains and actions. By this time in my life I was a university student and had developed an interest in both Celtic and Indian spirituality, having realised that I could no longer be a Roman Catholic.
As a child, I had experienced raw nature, woods, fields, mud, running wild with my friends and disappearing all day, just making it home just in time for 6 o’clock dinner on many occasions. I also found myself doing forced labour in the garden, as was common enough for kids in the 1970s. I even had my own vegetable patch – 2m x 2m which I horribly neglected, until it was reclaimed by my dismayed father.
In my student days, I had little interest in returning to the garden, bad memories of seemingly endless pea shelling put me off, not to mention the call of the endless supply of books on spirituality, science, culture etc in the university library. This, however, changed when I started work and shared a flat in old Georgian house with a friend from uni. The house had a walled back garden, that was sadly abandoned but which must have been a total delight at one time. Not one of the other 3 households were remotely interested in it, so I decided I would begin restoring it as a project, to relax after a boring day stuck in a noisy office.
I soon realised that the garden not only cleared my mind and offered subtle relief from the stress of modern life, but it was a place where spiritual connection and revelation could happen. One thing led to another, and I soon found myself spending more time in the garden, growing new plants, including a huge marijuana bush, and when I finished the work, spending time just watching the birds and enjoying the peace and stillness. To my chagrin those same birds ate all of the ripe cherries on the ancient cherry tree in the centre of the garden, all in one day, but I was also able to see the funny side of the disappointment caused by my inexperience.
I began to explore the Druid path and the slow process of learning what that really was (to me at least). It seemed to me to be the perfect fit for someone with a deep interest in nature, environmentalism, history and with a thirst for a direct relationship with spirit, deity or whatever you may call it. I look back fondly on that time – I really didn’t know a lot about plants or how to look after them, and even less about how to be a Druid, but I did have an instinctive feel for it – I guess I had natural ‘green fingers’.
More that 25 years later, I see the culmination of that path in the release of my latest book, “The Druid Garden”. While it is not an exhaustive tome on how to be a good gardener, it expresses my understanding of the natural world, the history of how we (as a species) got into such a terrible mess, and a fair portion of the botanical, herbalist and folklore knowledge that Druidism has gleened from nature.
It has often struck me that many Earth-based Pagans have good intentions but often fail to ‘walk the talk’ in a meaningful way. I’ve visited the houses of Wiccans, Shamans, Druids etc that were bereft of any visible signs of a factile connection with nature – none or sad looking house plants, empty back gardens, with nothing growing other than weeds! Don’t get me wrong, I am not perfect and do not expect all Pagans to be budding protégés of Alan Titmarsh, but it occurred to me that a lot of people could do with a helping hand in this area.
So, in a nutshell, this book is a guide on how to take our interest in nature, in spirituality, our love for the Earth and turn that into concrete action in the physical world. Making this happen is easier than one might think, and as is the case with many areas of life, a little bit of learning and preparation before hand can make all the difference.
I’ve studied horticulture and worked as a professional in that area for many years, but I have also spent many years prior to that as a novice gardener, falling into of the mistakes and pitfalls that are common. I’ve also been ignorant of the effects of pesticides, large-scale industrial horticulture and agriculture and lacked understndiing of the non-spiritual attitude that regards the plant world as little more than objects.
We are all aware of the desperate state of the planet and the need for us to play our part in changing the situation. Lifestyle changes, including lower consumption are obviously essential in that process, but this can also go hand in hand with a spiritual awareness and practice that brings us out of the house and into the garden. Our ability to change government, corporations is there, but as individuals it is somewhat limited. However, we can make a real and immediate difference within our own living spaces, public parks, common land and abandoned spaces.
Making a sacred space to work, in the garden, is the most obvious interface of spirituality and horticulture, but this can extend far beyond that – by creating a paradise for bees and other wild life and also by growing your own food. For me, growing food is a very powerful way of connecting with the land, and creating a direct awareness of not just the cycle of the seasons, but of the cycle of life and death and rebirth. Essentially, the Earth is one giant recycling machine, all the living matter and consciousness on the this planet has always been here, in one form or another. The seedlings I grow become my food eventually, which I excrete to become compost, indeed my own body may become compost eventually and out of my death new life will prosper, and so it goes on.
On a deeper level, if we accept that all life is connected, not just physically but on a meta-physical level, then we begin to see the animal and plant kingdom as our friends as well as our competitors. Modern science has proven what animists, such as Druids, have long believed – that consciousness and spirit extend far beyond the realm of human existence, everything is connected on this Earth, as one giant ecosphere that has intangible links, necessary for it’s prosperity and continued existence.
So, perhaps more than ever before, it is time to take up our love of the Earth and carry it out of the mind and the realm of belief and ideas and into the garden. If ever there was a time when we need to manifest our love for the Earth in the physical world, then surely that is now. If ever there is a time when we need to make a difference and take up the trowel, the bag of seeds, the sapling and do sacred work in service of the Earth, then it is now.