As I trudged up the gravel hill, two thoughts came to my mind. First, the brown, short wedge sandals I'd chosen were not a reasonable choice for extensive walking.
Second, it was way too hot for any flowers to actually be blooming. Surely, all the flowers had left their stems, fatigued by the intensity of the suns' heat and exposure.
250 acres. The property of the New York Botanical Garden was much more extensive than I anticipated. Plus, I'd arrived later than expected, caught up in interviews earlier in the day. Only two hours before closing time to cover 250 acres. Between my somewhat unreasonable shoes and the bigness of the botanical garden and the heat, the likelihood of seeing blooms now appeared delusional.
Despite the lack of flowers, the garden was beautiful, no matter what direction I looked. The peony bushes cut and manicured, the azalea diamond trimmed while a few hearty petals clung to their branches. I sat down for a few minutes to catch my breath and take a respite from the heat and looked out over an area designed to emulate the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains.
Pure quiet. The only sounds were a few birds and the chatter of happy children running up the trail ahead, a much-needed respite from the constant noise of the city. I inhaled and pulled out my embroidery, soaking in the serenity until an overzealous squirrel attempted to get too friendly with me. I decided I'd better keep going.
The reason I'd come to the garden in the middle of August, on the hottest day of the week was to see the lotus flowers. According to the website, they were still blooming, the very last week perhaps. But in looking at the map, the conservatory where they were held was exactly opposite of where I'd entered.
"You might try the rose garden," an employee said, pointing me to the top of the hill. When I'd asked about the lotus flowers, she'd given me a dubious look as if to say, In this heat? You've got to be kidding me.
She motioned again up the hill, gave me a nod with an encouraging smile. "Just go to the left."
I took her hint.
Over the tips of the iron gates pointing up to the sky, the tops of the roses could be seen. I walked down and found the path to the garden through the lilac fields (void of lilacs). A few other brave souls who'd come out in the heat lounged on benches, looking out to the rose garden below.
I walked down the steps and now saw why all the people were sitting and staring. My breath drew in more and more as I got nearer, finally descending the steps to enter the enclosed rose garden. Hundreds of roses filled the area, all meticulously cared for. I inhaled the sweet fragrance of fuchsia pink roses, aptly named Sweet Mademoiselle.
I walked the rows, taking in as much of the beauty as my senses allowed. Red, yellow, white, peach, light pink, bold pink, fuchsia pink, all the colors were there in the hundreds of varieties of roses.
Summer is a season with two overall themes: tend and trust.
In spring the weather is ideal, the energy flows and everyone – people and plants – are energized as winter recedes and spring comes out in exuberance.
Spring is a flurry of work, discovery, frenetic energy. Taking care of those roses required a lot of spring work, yet the beauty of roses occurs under the care of gardeners who excel at tending work, the careful art of slowly pruning. Without pruning, there would be too many blooms, branches, and leaves to feed, creating a mediocre rose bush instead of one that is stunning.
Garden work becomes focused, intent, careful. To see a "harvest," whether in the vegetable garden or the rose garden, one must ensure certain activities: watering, pest control, weeding. It's maintenance work, in between the spring and the autumn (or late summer) harvest.
My Mum is still in her garden every day, but the hours are diminished. She is watchful, waiting, watering, weeding, and keeping the darn rodents away from the tomatoes.
We are tending what we've started, going deeper instead of wider.
Not every season is an insanely busy "planting" season in our lives, a spring. We need the summers: time to evaluate, to see what is growing, to identify what needs help and more care and possibly, see what needs to be taken out.
The summer season provides such a break, a maturing time. We start as novices, then hone our skills to become proficient, possibly even masters. This applies to all sorts of things. Leadership, learning a language, growing a garden (after "winging" it a year or two, I realized I needed to "tend" my skills if I wanted to see a harvest), motherhood, mentoring, painting, playing the piano, hospitality – all these things are skills requiring depth if we want to excel in them.
Summer seasons invite us to slow down and go deep. Sometimes that means more study. Sometimes more practice. I've had summer seasons where I sought out teachers and mentors to help me grow deep in an area. By necessity, going deep typically means pruning away another area, that is good but not best...at least for this season of our lives.
As we mature in our activities and focus, it can be difficult to figure out what to eliminate to move towards a harvest. It's a good problem to have, but also can cause inner turmoil and angst. Yet, this discomfort is reflective of growth and part of the summer season.
The spring season often does not allow for times of deep reflection and quiet prayer, but summer seasons invite us to slow down, consider, pray deeper, listen.
Summer: A Season of Trust
Even the most ardent gardener can only spend so much time in the garden before needing to retreat under the intensity of summer heat.
Mum is selective about when she will water and care for the garden, retreating to the shade and coolness of her home much more than in the spring.
She trusts the work she has done will show up. She has done her part, now it is the plants and flowers job to do what they were designed to do: bloom beautifully or produce vegetables.
So it is with us. We are not promised outcomes. Oh, I wish we were. Summer demands we relinquish control and trust the Gardener of our lives to make things grow. I've ran like it is spring in a summer season. But that only ends in fatigue and complete depletion. Depletion often leads to discouragement and if left unchecked, giving up and an unnecessary sense of failure when I simply needed to take a break and trust.
Finishing the Summer Season Well
Summer is showing the very earliest signs of wrapping up. In August, it is still too hot and humid here in NYC to even imagine putting on scarves and jackets, yet I know the season will be changing in the coming weeks. How to finish this season well? What needs the quiet and unseen work of tending? What do I need to release and trust the Master Gardener with?
The lessons of the seasons are not trapped within the agrarian cycle. We can have a personal "spring" in December! We're all quite busy, leading full lives.
No matter what season you are in right now, perhaps the end of August is encouraging you to slow down for a little bit, to truly indulge in a personal season of summer.
Maybe you take a weekend, and soak in a bit of rest, tend to your heart and body, finish a piece of art or tend to a relationship over a lovely, long meal and conversation.
I hope you have a wonderful end of summer!