“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
—Cicero, 1st century B.C.

Isak Dinesen had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. I have a native plant garden in Pasadena.

Unlike Dinesen (“Out of Africa”), however, I don’t “own” my garden. It’s behind the Craftsman where I rent one of eight apartments.

I started it at the age of 64. I’m 67 now.

The garden brings me satisfaction, beauty, astonishment, joy.

The garden also requires an inordinate amount of worry and work.

When I started out, I thought simply to put my creative energy into arranging a bunch of plants. I didn’t know the garden would overtake my life.

I didn’t know the garden would help teach me how to order my day, pray, let go, love my neighbor, die.

It all started when I moved in around Christmas of 2015. The apartment is just my style: 1930s-era with alcove doorways, hardwood floors, and a west-facing balcony, now crammed with succulents and aloes, from which to watch the sun set.

I began to be bothered, however, by the more immediate view. The compound is huge, going beyond the parking lot to a vacant lot that extends the width of both our house and the house next door, also owned by our landlord.

The lot was overgrown and derelict, filled with half-buried spackling compound buckets, busted wheelbarrows, and rotting lawn chairs. Bit by bit that first winter, I began to clear. Bit by bit, the idea of a garden took hold.

I had never seriously gardened before. I took a half-day class at Theodore Payne Nursery in Sunland and my imagination caught fire.

At that point we were still in a years-long drought. So I hired my friend Jerry to prune, haul the stuff that was too heavy for me, and do a one-day rototill: the only time I have ever used a power tool of any kind in the garden.

He also beautifully laid the garden out with pea gravel-lined paths, a sitting area, and a couple of nicely-shaped mounds.

I chose the plants, Jerry showed me how to install them in the fall of 2016, and since then I’ve been on my own.

I’m a New Englander at heart, trained since birth to make do with what’s at hand, apply old-fashioned elbow grease, and go my own way.

My tools, even now, consist of a shovel, a spade, a pair of clippers, a rake, gardening gloves and a hose that has to be uncoiled and dragged. 

I use no pesticides.

Several times a year I take advantage of the City of Pasadena’s free mulch program. At Jackie Robinson Park, I load the stuff into bins and recycled potting soil bags, haul them home in the back of my Fiat, unload, spread, and return a time or two more.

Caring for the garden is meditative: weeding, digging, clipping. I’ll say a Rosary while I’m out there. Or I’ll think of all the people in the world who are suffering—in prison, being tortured, giving birth on a filthy pallet; hungry, hounded, lost—and dedicate my work, joy, and pain to them.  Or I’ll simply fall silent, both interiorly and exteriorly, my entire being breathing thanks and praise.

The monks call this way of being “Ora et Labora:” work and prayer.

Many existential contradictions coalesce in the garden: activity versus contemplation, solitude versus community, noise versus quiet, the effort to love you neighbor while being driven crazy by your neighbor.  

I myself crave quiet, for example. So I have never played music of any kind in the garden: partly so as not to disturb my neighbors; partly because the notion of quiet implies doing one thing at a time.

In return I’m surrounded by blaring hip-hop music, chainsaws, motorized go-carts, helicopters, and the ubiquitous leaf blowers.

Each morning I save the graywater from my shower in a large bucket and haul it out to the garden. So it’s painful to watch parents from adjacent rentals allow their kids to turn on the spigot and use the precious water as a substance to play in for an hour.

Since Day One, I have paid for the garden (except for water) and single-handedly maintained it. In return, my landlord has raised my rent every year, and now advertises his other apartments as having a “lushly landscaped back yard.” 

This used to bother me more. But the fact is no-one asked me to plant a garden. And in a world where everything is lent to us by God, the concept of ownership assumes its true proportions.  We make a thing ours by loving it, and the more we love it, the more we are willing to disappear—to die—for it.

Never have I been more aware of the glory of the garden than during the current lockdown. People sit out there with their coffee and read, or enjoy a cocktail at dusk. Beleaguered parents bring their kids to run around and let off steam; neighbors have started their own plots of vegetables and flowers.

The Western scrub jay shoots down to nab a worm from a shovelful of freshly-turned earth. The tiny white butterfly flickers in and out of the buckwheat. The bees drowse in the ceanothus.

The whole thing could be plowed under tomorrow—but the garden would endure, unto eternity.

That is Christ saying “I will be with you until the end of time.”

That is the promise of the Resurrection.


  1. Marvelous, inspiring piece! Pls write a book on your astonishing garden!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Sheila, the book is nearing completion! Will be sure to keep you all posted. I just went out there and after two weeks of LA rain, it is once again overrun with weeds! Blessed Easter to you and many thanks, Heather

  2. Rich Jasper says: Reply

    Heather, Easter blessings to you and your readers. Thank you for this beautiful reflection. I would love to join in the next Zoom conversation if possible. Let us, together, keep dying to self for love of Him and others! -Fr. Rich

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      You got it, Fr. Rich. Email going out soon–Blessed Easter to you!

  3. Wonderful post! I honor your perseverance with the garden, your patience, and your prayers.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you, Sharon, I’m sure that I, my neighbors and the world are all better off for the nervous energy I’m able to work off out there–and glory be to God, it IS pretty stupendous this time of year…

  4. Carl Wiles says: Reply

    Thanks for the invitation Heather and Easter blessings
    God bless you

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      You are on the list, Carl–hope to see you all soon and thank you!

  5. Dianna Hannigan says: Reply

    Thank you Heather for an article that was so intensely felt. It made me want to get on the waiting list for the next available apartment in your complex. I agree with Sheila and would love to read your book on your wonderful garden…..and BTW….sorry that I can’t attend your Zoom meetings, but mountain living and current internet speed is preventing that. I believe we are both spoiled and we must thank God for his predilection toward us and toward our homes.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thanks, Dianna, I will keep you on the mailing list in case internet speed clears up and, yes, that book manuscript is shaping up nicely! God bless you in the mountains, wherever you may be!

  6. Blessed Easter to you, Heather. Loved your article on your beautiful garden! How fortunate you are to live in an area to develop such lush greenery. I would love that you’d add my name to your meetings via zoom. Hopefully I can figure out zoom! God bless you for all your wonderful works! Your writing are very inspiring.
    Judy 💛

  7. Robert Homan says: Reply

    I’d love to be included!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yep, you are already on the list, Robert-thank you!

  8. Oh those silly weeds and that ungrateful landlord, Heather! And on you go willy nilly…with gratitude, humor and prayer, just as our Lord surely would have prescribed. What a wonderful neighbor you have chosen to be. This was indeed a wonderful, blessed Easter Monday read.

    Please do sign me up for the zoom gathering.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Philippe, yes! You’re on the list–and I’m so glad you liked the piece!

  9. Beautiful Heather! My husband does the native garden on the property, where we, too, are renters. So, we don’t “own” our garden either, but experience it, especially now, as a great gift.

    I’d love to be on the list too!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you so much, Aline–we should form a communion of native plant garden renters! Beautiful to know your husband’s on the same wavelength and you’d been added to the list–

  10. Stephen Lynott says: Reply

    Thank you, Heather, for the lesson on detachment. It is a wonderful insight. You don’t own the garden, It is on loan from the landlord. He does not realize it, but he really doesn’t own it either. It probably belongs to the bank. They don’t really own it either. It ultimately belongs to God, who can remove it whenever He wills it. So you teach us to live in the moment, enjoy it for what it is, use it as inspiration and lift it all up in prayer. You are graced.

    May God let me do the same.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Stephen, yes all around! The Kings had a “family house”, built by my grandfather, father, brother, cousin and uncle circa 1957 on the coast of Rye, NH, that contained whole inner and outer worlds, for all of us, as well as beautiful lovingly tended gardens and grounds. And it was sold earlier this year to a couple who just razed the house to the ground. Which led me to reflect in a whole new way that as you say that we are ALL in the end renters. Plus, let my own beautiful garden be for my landlord, too, who I’m sure in his way appreciates the beauty. And how LUCKY am I that as a renter I get to have a garden at all! Blessed Easter to you!

  11. Happy Easter Heather! I’d love to join the next call-I couldn’t join the last one although I would have liked to as I was ill with he dreaded covid19 but am much stronger and healthier now and would love to join. Thank you and every blessing for the Easter season x

  12. Catherine Burnham says: Reply

    Happy Easter, Heather!

    As usual, your reflections brought me profound consolation. I check in frequently and always find in your expressions, space — a treasured gift these days — to respond honestly to the happenings around me. Thank you my dear sister in Christ.

    If there is still room to join the online meeting, I’d be delighted to be on your list.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Wonderful, Catherine, Happy Easter and thanks so much for your kinds words–have added you to the mailing list and sent an invite–Happy Spring!

  13. Happy Easter Heather!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Blessed Easter to you, Helena! And thank you, maybe we will talk about your pilgrimage down the road….

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