By Jenny Keating
Spring has sprung here in the Southern hemisphere and everywhere in the garden buds are ready to burst into bloom. It’s a wonderful time of year with the promise of warmer days ahead and all the new growth in the garden giving a lush feel to the landscape.
My love of gardening has come late in life and my dream is to have a garden of colourful flowers that can be picked for bouquets to beautify Baba’s room at Meher House. Baba’s beloved Mehera and the women Mandali would always beautify His Places and especially His photos with flowers, and Francis Brabazon in one of his early letters directed us, for any meetings or celebrations, to fill the room with ‘lots of flowers.’
My husband Ross and I live in the weatherboard cottage next door to Meher House that was built for my paternal grandparents. When Meher Baba visited in 1956, it was a double garage being used during His visit as a makeshift kitchen. And in 1958 when He visited Meher House for the day it housed the car that He was driven in while in Sydney. We are fortunate that on both visits He came into this space that is now our home – in 1956 it was to inspect the kitchen facilities, and in 1958 it was to inspect the car that was to be used for the drive back to the airport.
We have kept the house relatively small but the yard is large. It’s mostly rock shelves and the soil is sandy and porous but my grandparents were keen gardeners and developed wonderful terraced gardens including a vegetable patch. Ross and I, sadly, did not maintain these, finding the time and energy required was not possible while raising a family. It was not until recent years that we started revitalising the garden, keen to have it looking beautiful and inspired by the beauty of Mehera’s garden at Meherazad which she so lovingly created and maintained for her Beloved Baba.
But gardening here at Meher House has proved difficult. The soil is poor and it needs a lot of work to make it rich enough to grow flowers and especially roses. Rainfall can be scarce at times and with global warming the temperatures in recent years have increased. And even more frustratingly, weeds don’t seem to mind these conditions and have no trouble establishing themselves and multiplying happily. So frequent weeding and clearing is required, followed by the addition of composted material and regular watering. But Baba seemed to like dry and arid places that His lovers would have to strive to make beautiful, once saying to Mehera about the garden at Meherazad: “it is so much more beautiful because of the effort you have had to put into creating it. . . “
I never got to talk personally to Mehera about gardening, but I love the stories she used to tell about the garden and growing things. She told us Baba loved roses and marigolds. And about marigolds, He said, “they are beautiful, so simple and sweet.” Baba’s fondness for such a simple, unassuming flower reminds me of the time I was in India shortly after Mehera went to Baba. Mani was reminiscing with me about Mehera, and I don’t know how it came up, but she ended by giving me a dried flower to keep which she said was one of Baba’s favourite flowers. I was so touched, because it was such a simple flower, a wildflower from the field outside the compound, nothing fancy overblown, and somehow it seemed to me to stand for the beautiful simplicity of Baba’s Love.
Working in the garden helps me feel Baba’s Presence and it reminds me of a dream my paternal grandmother had in which Baba told her: “you’ll find Me in the garden.” I picture Baba walking here with Mehera and it inspires me to make sure it is maintained as beautifully as possible. In Mehera-Meher, Mehera talks about working in the garden: “During the day, I will be working in the garden, absorbed in my work. Sometimes, I stop and think, ‘Baba, I love you. Are you with me, Baba? Be with me.’ In your work, you get absorbed but you should stop and remember Baba and then go back to work.”
In researching for this column, I did a search for ‘garden’ in Mehera-Meher and was amazed at just how many references came up – the women seemed often to be either creating gardens whenever Baba stayed for a period of time, visiting gardens either public or private wherever they traveled, and in later years, collecting interesting plants to bring back to Meherazad. Mehera recalls how some of these plants survived and some did not. It seems with gardening (as with life) it is trial and error. You can’t get too attached to a plant flourishing as it may not survive. And yet sometimes plants survive against the odds and it’s such a joyful surprise.
But my favourite garden story from Mehera, which I always remember when feeling frustrated by the difficulties in gardening at Meher House (which is often), highlights the wisdom that is in even the simplest things Baba said and did. As Mehera tells it inMehera-Meher, one time she was complaining to Baba about how poor the soil is at Meherazad and how hard they have to work to grow the beautiful bright flowers Baba loved. But Baba told her, “Because the soil is poor, you have to work hard, with so much care and love; then the flowers and plants that come up are special. What’s the use if it is good soil, if you plant seeds, water them a little, and they grow easily by themselves? I wouldn’t have appreciated that as much. This is how I like it. I appreciate the garden because of your efforts.”
When telling this story Mehera then added: “So Baba wants that (of us) – to work hard and then get results. That is what He appreciates. It isn’t easy. Baba always had a ready answer. From that time though, I didn’t complain to Baba that we have poor soil in the compound.”