Everything is almost always available. For those of us living in the industrialized world, our homes are a stone’s throw from major retailers, where goods of all season are almost always available. And for those who do not back up to shopping malls, the Internet malls are merely a click away. I recall the Internet boom in a major urban center in the mid-1990s when we could get nearly anything delivered, day or night. But, I also recall resisting such immediate consumption.
What about growing your own cherry tomatoes? And what about the joy of nurturing them, from start to delectable (small) finish, and then sharing the harvest? As ‘convenience’ and ‘choice’ become the hallmarks of our era, is it not time to reflect on what we may be giving up by our own consumptive patterns? How may we integrate different practices, for our own mental and physical well-being and ultimately the well-being of our planet, not to mention our own spiritual growth? What about reconsidering embedded notions of productivity (e.g. units processed per minute) and imagine instead our productivity as a function of how connected we are to our Creator , all while keeping our feet firmly rooted in the ground? Gardening has real power here, and the following tips will, In sha Allah, inspire you to grow your own greens.
I have long heard, ‘I don’t have a green thumb’ and ‘I can’t garden.’ You may not (yet) like the soil or you may not like the sun, but everyone has the potential to be a gardener – everyone, even if you are apartment-bound, without a plot to call your own. If something has not yet grown successfully under your watch, do not blame it on your ‘thumb’. Instead, consider gaining more knowledge and experience. In our city, the public libraries ran free tutorials all spring, same for major home improvement retail chains, and of course the local nurseries. Internet sites abound, and there is wonderful inspiration in the likes of Ron Finley’s ‘Gangster Gardener’ approach as well.
In sum, the knowledge is there, but we have to take the first step. We have to be open to re-envisioning our thumbs and our whole beings, for that matter, as we seek to tap a new, earth-bound sense of productivity, in which we are connected to Allah ’s creation in a tangible and constructive way. If you are lacking in inspiration, it may be enough simply to open the Qur’an and review any of the magnificent passages describing the growth which Allah has gifted us in this world [Qur’an: Chapter 55, Verses 11-12] as well as that which is promised in the next [Chapter: 55, Verses 48-52]. The Qur’an is replete with such references, and getting into our own gardens is a wonderful reminder of these blessings.
2. Start Small and Be Realistic
A cherry tomato is small, but even that was overly ambitious for us when we started. In fact, it took us four tries before we got it right (and even then several birds beat us to it). If you are new to the field of gardening, I recommend starting small, quite small, possibly with an herb or two, after first identifying what is indigenous to your area. Yes, not all climates were intended to grow mangoes!
3. Variety and Sustainability
Much of our ‘kitchen garden’ is based on small herb plants, which help flavor our daily meals. Children are tasked with gathering one small item from the garden so it becomes a fun chore and one which immediately has a connection to our meals. When the cilantro/dania finished for the season we turned to the mint, rosemary and basil. And then we set up a compost to introduce another level of sustainability, by composting our fruit and vegetable waste as well as egg shells and coffee grinds. As we reside in a hot climate, we manage three crop yields of soil, which in turn helps feed our garden produce. Composting has been one of the most exciting elements of our home, urban garden, as it has allowed us to have a full-cycle of growth.
4. Other Practical Matters: Stretch
Not only did we start eating more ruffage, which is always a boon, we also now get down on our knees more often, and squat. Gardening is work, and it has the potential to be good, wholesome exercise. Although the ‘gym-culture’ is synonymous with 21st century urban culture, gardening offers another approach to exercise that could help you nurture body and spirit simultaneously. Just make sure you stretch, before and after, and stay hydrated.
5. Be Persistent
As with all new activities, it is critical to be persistent. Have a schedule, it can keep you on top of your weeding and watering. And of course remember to keep your eyes on the prize. That prize may come in the form of a cherry tomato or delicious mint, or perhaps it will come in the form of a child demonstrating that he has the potential to care for the earth. Just do not abandon your garden. If need be, take more inspiration, from the Qur’an, as noted above, and hadith. It is reported that prophet Muhammad said, “There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him.” [Bukhari]. Yes, it may not be you or your family eating from your garden, initially, but do not overlook the benefit, including the charity of feeding a bird.
6. Involve Children, and Learn About the Food Chain
In addition to having children plant and reap, involving children in that ever evolving compost pile has been a wonderful teaching outlet. This is science in action. Although some recoil at the sight of worms breaking down our own vegetable matter, many are intrigued. In fact, we have made a trip out to the compost, a requisite stop for all our guests, to meet the (very productive) worms.
7. Think of Maryam
Earlier this spring, when we decided to plant fruit trees, I took further inspiration from Maryam (Umm Isa ), who we know to be especially blessed. Every time Zakariyya entered the Mihrab to visit her, he found her supplied with sustenance. According to one narration, “He would find with her the fruits of the summer during winter, and the fruits of the winter during summer.” [Ibn Kathir] When Zakariyya would see this, he said: “O Maryam! From where have you gotten this”. She said, “This is from Allah. Verily, Allah provides sustenance to whom He wills, without limit,” [Qu’ran: Chapter 3, Verse 37]. Somehow, as we are toiling in our garden bed, summer and winter, Maryam comes to mind, her piety, her purity, and also the blessings of fruit that followed her. Find a Qur’anic model that inspires you. It may be Maryam or another, but the Qur’an has no lack of inspiration for gardening.
8. Do Da’wah and Share Your Harvest
As we were planning where to place our fruit trees in our rather limited urban plot, we made a deliberate decision to plant two trees in our front lot, with the idea of doing da’wah with peaches and grapefruit to our neighbors. What better way to engender friendship and trust among neighbors than sharing fruit with them? However, because fruit trees take at least two years to bear real fruit, in the meantime, we have shared a considerable amount of mint, and on occasion a rare cherry tomato, which has no less impact in terms of engendering good will.
In closing, an oft-cited hadith, will hopefully help motivate our efforts, “If the Last Hour is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it,” [Al-Albani]. It could not have been stated better, subhanAllah.
I pray that Allah accept our efforts, and that gardens, the world over, flourish. Share your gardening experience – urban or otherwise – in the comments section below!