Gardens of Spirit

William Bradley, Sudbury


As I gaze out my frost-lined windows on this clear cold winter morning, my thoughts turn to Spring.  My garden beds lie dormant, framed by the expanse of the lake ice beyond. Like all true gardeners, knowing that the seasons will change stimulates my anticipation.  Catalogues lie on my desk and lists of to be ordered plants grace my bulletin board.  But it was a chance perusal of a website that prompted me to speculate that this year, being a special year, could be a gardening season where the boundaries of what it means to till the soil are brought to new heights.

It was the Findhorn web page that engendered memories of a book read long ago, The Findhorn Garden, stirring my consciousness to reinhabit that world of devas and nature spirits so vital to those Scottish gardeners.  And, it being winter here at West Wind Cottage, a period of serene spirituality, I felt it appropriate to investigate what spiritual gardening can mean, both to “grow” ourselves and to heal the Land wherein we dwell.  Rather than relying solely on the “experts”, I also felt inclined to heed my own inner voice, grounded as it is in the wild beauty of the surrounding landscape, and to recall my own albeit humble adventures. 

Upon further surfing of the web, I found others similarly affected by The Findhorn Garden. California’s Judith Handelson, author of Growing Myself: A Spiritual Journey Through Gardening, states that the Findhorn book, and meeting its writers Peter and Eileen Caddy, changed her life, in particular her own gardening practices. Judith knows her plants as intelligent beings, lovingly communicates with them on a regular basis and affirms the mutual benefits of such a connection. In fact, she feels that the sense of isolation felt by many in the industrial world is primarily due to a lack of reciprocal and sensitive relationship to nature.

Another woman profoundly impacted by the Findhorn experience is Machaelle Small Wright, founder of Virginia’s PereLandra Center for Nature Research.  She works with nature spirits as peers in planning and implementing the garden.  Her books, PereLandra Garden Workbook: A Complete Guide to Gardening with Nature Intelligences, PereLandra Garden Workbook II: Co-Creative Energy Processes for Gardening, Agriculture and Life and Co-Creative Science: A Revolution In Science are mind expanding accounts that also provide practical techniques. Thousands have taken her courses; I even found a woman in Sudbury who uses the techniques. 

Active cooperation between humans and these “other intelligences” result in unusually healthy plants and productive gardens. On a broader level, such collaboration can guide the restoration of the Earth and contribute to the rehabilitation of humans.  But what or whom are these “intelligences” and what is spiritual gardening?  One of Findhorn's founders, Dorothy Maclean, describes the devas as spiritual entities, those of clouds, rain and plants for example, that are part of a vast assemblage of beings from the earthiest gnome to the highest archangel.  She notes that the word “deva” is from the Sanscrit, meaning “shining ones”.  The devas are essentially architects of plant forms whereas the nature spirits are the workers or crafts persons. Devas hold the archetypal pattern or plan for all forms about us (minerals, plants, animals), directing the energy needed for the materialization of those forms. The nature spirits work with the blue prints and energy of the devas to build up the form in the etheric level closest to the physical. The process is completed by those forces and means made familiar by the various sciences we know today. 

                A spiritual gardening metaphysic posits that although modern science may be technically accurate in its observations, it has only a partial view of how matter truly comes into being. According to another Findhorn member, the late “Roc” Ogilive Crombie, nature spirits can be regarded as whirls of intelligent energy with whom contact is possible. Roc claimed that ancient and even medieval societies accepted these spirits as being real but because the modern world emphasizes the rational, analytical and replicable aspects of knowledge many people have forgotten their existence.  Yet, in spite of technological ingenuity, the world careens precariously on the precipice of nuclear war, climate change, footloose genetically engineered organisms and growing personal alienation.  Perhaps, as Shakespeare so eloquently penned, “All that glitters is not gold”.  The founder of Findhorn’s educational programs, David Spangler states that the Scottish community’s greatest benefit may be its practical demonstration of a spiritual solution to ecological perils and global food needs.  Here in Canada, the current resurgence of native spirituality is another gentle reminder that not all humans see the world in the same way.

As for my own experiences, I cannot truthfully say that I contact on a daily basis the devas of my cabbages or lettuce. Nor do I see nature spirits gamboling amongst the tall birches outside my windows, although on a number of occasions I have noticed a series of unusual disks of light high in the surrounding trees. I admit to being a little unnerved upon hearing that nature spirits have appeared to Machaelle Small Wright as balls of light. Still, I leave ten percent of my acreage for the benefit of these beings as my personal bequest of a nature reserve. Wright mentions that you need to stand in the middle of your garden and invite the nature spirits in. Last night I tried that and a pronounced “Thank you” entered my mind! I have oft asked for protection for my valuables (including my orchard) from the spirit world, especially if there has been a rash of break-ins or saw-wielding teens nearby.  I also regularly address the deva of the oak woodlot where I seek dead snags or fallen wood for my stove.  I thank the rain deva for ending summer droughts and I have been known, while standing upon blueberry laden hilltops, to draw power from the brooding sky above.

            Finally there is one profound experience I can relate. A number of years ago my neighbour, now deceased, told me of a remote ridge of old growth pines south of my lake.  Somehow I felt a very deep bond with those trees, despite never personally witnessing their wild beauty.  I tried to protect them politically through the Ontario government’s Lands For Life process. While seeking to locate them I have had a number of scary “lost in the bush” misadventures. In January 1995, after returning miraculously from yet another near-death winter encounter I felt moved to pen my first short story, entitled The Sentinels.  In the story, the hero, a freelance radio journalist, is seeking an isolated old growth pine remnant south of his cabin. After much effort he finds the secluded grove and falls asleep beside a large rock under a stately white pine.  He had been recording a natural soundscape prior to his snooze and the tape machine continued to run. Later, back at his cabin, he listened to the recording and heard: 


We the largest Pines, the last of our kind, are Elders. We rule this forest and beyond. For untold winters and summers, many deer, moose, bear and grouse have paused and rested here. The big rock was dropped here long ago by the great Ice Spirit. It was a gift to the dwellers of this Land. Its power has helped us spread our seed to replenish our kind when your people cut us down. But our purpose is more than this and that is what your kind may never know. For you live in your bubble world of your machines and partial knowledge, a world bereft of spirit, ignorant of truth. As Elders, our link is with Spirit. Unbeknown to you we help bring spring’s life force into the creek dogwoods, into the hillside maples, into the trilliums in the rich valleys. We bring the regenerative force of Spirit through the power of the great granite block so that all may benefit from the warm breath of April and the strong sun of summer.

                                                                                                                                                            Our benevolence spreads far and wide. We touch the dark soil of your garden and the tender buds of your orchard trees. Later, we maintain the balance so you may harvest the green vegetables you love so dearly. For centuries some humans knew our role. They were native. Like us they were persecuted, their culture felled. Like us their wisdom was ignored.


Now times have changed. Now your people listen to the native views on your radio. Far back in the mists of time your people across the great ocean knew and listened. They were persecuted too. Now some remember.


For too long, places of power have been desecrated, destroyed. But there was no need. When your people come again to take the trees we do not object. We know they are needed by your people. But, we ask for respect for the places that are sacred. This ridge where we stand tall is one of those places. If humans do not respect us or our role, our benevolence will vanish as the spring snow banks. The rains will not replenish the ponds and lakes. The winds will wail louder. The forest will die from neglect. It will be a time when the balance will be lost. That time is almost here. You who listen to us now, you are the teller of stories.  We ask you to tell our story.”


I still bristle when I consider that these were my own written words; perhaps the spirits communicate with us whether or not we are conscious of it.  How much untapped potential lies in consciously listening to and heeding their wisdom? 


William Bradley is a writer/broadcaster living in his eco-home south of Sudbury, Ontario. Currently he is looking for information for a documentary on spiritual gardening, possibly to be aired across Canada. He can be reached via email: .


ă William Bradley, 2000

Edited by Donna Havinga


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