Thursday, August 7, 2014


My version of "when all else fails, do this..." has altered during the past few years. I was once inclined to say that "when all else fails, take a hot bath," but lately I've changed that sentence to read: "When all else fails, plant a garden," or "stroll through a garden" because I believe that flowers/plants have healing and soothing effects on humans.

Here on the Cumberland Plateau at Sewanee where I spend spring and summer, we have a small garden that would probably seem negligible as far as gardens grow, but it satisfies my sense of aesthetics and is a soothing sight every morning when I open the back door. Only this morning, I opened it and spied a red knockout rose blooming against the grey planks of the back fence. Of course, I have a black thumb and could describe my gardening expertise as much like that to which Ogden Nash laid claim: the skills of a "horticultural ignoramus." However, I do appreciate gardens as avenues for feeding the soul.

When I lived on the desert plains of Khuzestan in Iran for two years, I had a small rose garden, and the first book of poetry by a Persian writer that I bought was the Gulestan (The Rose Garden) by Sa'Di, who wrote:

"Of what use will a dish of roses be to thee?
Take a leaf from my rose garden.
A flower endures but five or six days
But the rose garden is always delightful."

Sa'Di also said that if he had only two loaves of bread, he'd sell one and buy hyacinths because they would feed his soul. Persians love gardens, and during the 1970's when I lived in Ahwaz, Iran, lush gardens enclosed by mud walls were scattered throughout the city of a half million inhabitants. Readers can imagine the vegetation that flourished in Iran by reading a long poem I wrote for The Holy Present and Farda, published in 2009, thirty-four years following my sojourn in this mid-eastern country:


Touching down on flat Iranian plains,
the aircraft enters another West Texas,
a stark landscape of stone and sand.

"Where did all the flowers go?"
the tune replays in my mind
but it is a fleeting thing
this question about landscape,
some weeks later I have seen
lale', the wild tulip
growing spiritedly at Masjid-I-Suleiman,
blooms of beauty taken to Europe
during the Crusades
and wild garlic with red and green flowers
clustering in flower stalls.

Goats have stripped the stark plateau,
leaving only globe and artichoke thistle,
a few anemones and yellow daisies.
They have bypassed the caper plant,
spicy night bloomer,
its large white flowers wilting in sunlight,
at night its pickled buds
enhancing salads at dinner parties.

Plants within our reach,
wild marigolds at Andimeshk
near Choga Mish,
and farther into the Zagros Mountains
at Hamadan, Iran's red poppy,
closer home, cultivated gardens
of Persian cyclamen
showing off her heart-shaped base.

In my own garden
the yellow rose of Texas struggles
and is the household joke,
that I was lured to Iran by a spouse
who sang at my arrival,
"I didn't promise you a rose garden,"
then grew a neat row
of yellow and pink blooms.

We do not neglect the almond and pistachio
or the tall Lombard poplars favoring Isfahan,
nor can we forget the poisonous oleander,
nemesis of Ahwaz gardeners,
a plant that gave me a case of hayfever
endemic to more tropical climes,
reminding me of home,
Teche country—without walls—
but the same lushness enclosing.

The photograph at the top of this blog is a shot of the miniature garden in my backyard, a space where plants nod good morning every day and speak to my condition "when all else fails."
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