Everything is budding and blooming in the small hidden garden behind my house. Purple jasmine flowers droop decorously from delicate green vines, shedding their sweet smoky fragrance. The last of the white cherry blooms float soundlessly to the earth, while tender green sweet woodruff and lilies push upward. I am grateful to see that most of the bamboo and the Japanese maples survived the snow.
Today, the warmest so far this spring, is dedicated to repairing and restoring the corner fountain, a stair-shaped structure of multiple basins set into the ground and framed by a stand of bamboo. This task, an annual spring ritual, tends to be frustrating because the winter ice and snow usually break one or more parts of my water feature.
This afternoon I have to replace a pump, and then attach its hose to a larger hose coming out of the fountain. Changing pumps is a delicate business because the placement of the pump determines how effectively it will circulate the water. Hoses must be leak free, straight and positioned so that the stream of water flows correctly and does not splash too much or spill over the sides of the fountain.
I set everything up, certain that I have it right the first time, turn on the pump and stand back to admire my work. No water emerges from the spout. There is a leak at the juncture of the hoses. I have to replace two hoses with one, which means foraging in my basement for a longer length of rubber hosing, finding something to cut it with and fitting it correctly.
Finally I get the water to flow. Problem now is that it isn’t filling the first basin. Something is causing it to drain out. I get down on my knees for closer inspection and find that there are two little rubber plugs in the basin, like miniature bathtub stoppers, that have been dislodged during the winter. I reinsert them, turn on the fountain and soon water is flowing prettily in my garden.
The whole thing takes two hours. What a lesson there is in the process!
Learning to tame water and get it to flow in a contained and recirculating fashion takes patience. It also takes studying the ways of water: how it moves, what pushes it, what stops it, the angle at which it flows and strikes things. If you study it, if you get it right, you can create a fountain and fix it every time without any special degree in landscaping or engineering or plumbing. You just have to be observant and patient.
Not only does the garden teach patience, but it also teaches one to respect life forces outside of oneself. To work with water you have to learn how it thinks, so to speak, you have to learn its ways, and forget about your own, and, especially, your wishes for how it is going to work. Plants are the same. You have to learn what pleases them, what beckons them to grow, what hurts them. You have to be flexible enough to move them if they are unhappy, give them more water or less, turn off your pretty sprinkler if they don’t want it.
If you learn the ways of plants, trees, soil and water and work with them, they will give back to you astonishingly. Vines and trees will emerge from initial dormancy and present you with the sweetest most brilliant flowers. Bulbs will multiply. The jasmine, rose and honeysuckle will return with their fragrance. The flowering shrubs and bamboo will rustle prettily for you in the wind.
You will understand not only patience and empathy but also gratitude. You will find magic, find God, in the gifts of the garden.