Did you go to the Chelsea or Hampton Court Flower Shows this year? Julia and I were not fortunate enough to enjoy that privilege, but we were able to visit two local gardens: The delightful Friary Walled Garden and the splendid gardens at Beeleigh Abbey, which we both love.

The Friary Walled Garden sits adjacent to the White Horse car park in what used to be the centre of medieval Maldon. Founded in 1293, the Friary housed a small order of Carmelite friars who were (and are) expected to go out into the community to serve and do good works as well as pray. Maldon’s friary was located where the library and adult education centre stand today and the Walled Garden probably originated with the friary, although its present form is Georgian. Managed by volunteers the quarter acre ‘secret’ garden, entered via a large wooden gate, is full of botanical surprises and a lovely place to sit and rest.

Beeleigh Abbey, was a monastery constructed in 1180 for the order of canons known as the Norbertines, or Premonstratensians, which obtained a royal charter from Richard I in 1189. Subsequently used as a farm and a public house, the building eventually fell into disrepair until it was restored in 1912 and was purchased by William Foyle (of Foyles bookshop) in 1943. The Foyle family still own and reside at the Abbey and have established over three acres of beautiful formal and informal gardens in an historic countryside setting, including woodland walks, cottage, kitchen and bog gardens, an orchard and a wildflower meadow. The views, flowers and scent are for us a perfect escape from the phrenetic world in which we spend so much of our time and an oasis in which to be refreshed and inspired! Do I dare say a taste of paradise – or is it?

My family are all gardeners but although I enjoyed gardens, I was never a gardener myself. Despite my best efforts, I had a reputation for being able to kill the hardiest of plants, including a large cactus and I couldn’t grow a single thing! More recently, however, having my hand forced by ill-health, spare time and a garden jungle that began to resemble the Congo Basin, I took the challenge and armed myself with spade and loppers. At first it was sheer hard work cutting back trees and shrubs, breaking the soil and removing brambles, bamboo and weeds, but gradually I began to plant, nurture and create. I learnt that patience, perseverance and realistic expectations are key to gardening and I began to treat my plants with care and embrace the challenges and rewards that hard work brings, in fact . . . I love it!

There are several references to plants and gardens in the bible that are too numerous to include here, but I feel it would be good to focus on when God created man and woman (Adam and Eve) and a garden that He called Eden (translated as paradise in Hebrew).

The Lord God planted a garden eastward toward Eden, and there he put the man that he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9)

Can you imagine how beautiful and perfect Eden was? By comparison, Beeleigh Abbey, Hampton Court and indeed the best gardens around the world would pale into insignificance – and He gave it all to Adam! He made Adam a companion (Eve) and gave him just one rule:

The Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16)

Okay, so we all know the end of the story: How Eve was deceived by the serpent and Adam was persuaded by Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, but do we truly comprehend the enormity of the consequences that arose from such a wicked act of disobedience? Adam and Eve effectively consumed sin, which led to banishment from the garden, painful childbirth, the beginning of the fall of all creation and physical death for mankind – God did not lie! The man and woman whom God had breathed into life, that He loved with a pure love and lavished with every good gift, His joy, His pleasure and His delight, so quickly and tragically betrayed Him! Surely the greatest tragedy ever told!

Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken (Genesis 3:23)

Thousands of years later God is in a different garden. This time Jesus, the son of God, the second Adam, is in the garden of Gethsemane (possibly an olive grove situated at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem). Jesus prayed in anguish, grieving with sweat like drops of blood, knowing the dreadful events that awaited Him as a man, and the spiritual battle that He would soon fight as the son of God. Meanwhile the murderous Chief Priests and Pharisees closed in like serpents, being led by Judas Iscariot (one of Jesus’ disciples).

On the other side there was a garden, and He (Jesus) and his disciples went into it. Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. Judas [the traitor] came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons (John 18:1-3)

So this garden, once a place of prayer and refuge, became a place of wickedness, betrayal and fear – sound familiar? Jesus was arrested, falsely accused and crucified, but God had the victory and provided a way for Man to be saved and find paradise again – a new Eden at the end of days!

Then the angel showed me [John] the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. (Rev 22:1-3)

Twice God had significant encounters with man in a garden and they proved to be two of the most pivotal spiritual events. It is perhaps, therefore, no surprise that Jesus made so many references to gardens and gardeners in His parables, such as sin like weeds, faith like a mustard seed, reaping what you sow, growing spiritual fruits and being pruned like a vine to improve the yield of your spiritual fruit. God made Adam from mud and He tells us that we are also like soil, whilst His living word is like seed. See the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1- 23) and note that just as the condition of the soil is at the heart of successful growth in a field or garden, so the condition of your heart affects how you will grow spiritually. The good news is that God is the master gardener with unlimited patience and perseverance.

I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3: 6-7)

Thank God for His abundant grace and mercy, because despite being betrayed within the paradise that He had so lovingly created for us all to enjoy forever and knowing that He would be betrayed again in the garden of Gethsemane, He still sent His only son to defeat death and give us all a second chance – to be tilled, sown, watered, fed, weeded, pruned and presented perfect and unblemished on that great day of salvation! How great is the Father’s love for us!

The Lord will guide you [the faithful] always. He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail (Isaiah 58:11)