THE GARDEN is as good a place to learn about good and evil. “A garden eastward in Eden” came to mind while the husband and I chose plants for our small garden.
Were Eve and Adam overwhelmed, too, by the sales spiel of the serpent into committing the original sin? Following the recommendation of a grandmotherly seller that described it as a “good plant” (“so obedient, you stick it into the soil, it does God’s will”), we brought home oregano.
Unlike Eve and Adam, who chose knowledge in the garden east of Eden, oregano is obedient. We planted the cuttings and, three months later, the oregano has grown to almost three feet, green leaves peering over the windows like an inquisitive child checking out what’s for dinner.
Oregano is useful, too. Gently shake the leaves and release a pungent odor. The herb repels mosquitoes and cures cough. In Bohol, oregano-flavored “humba” favors jackfruit instead of pork.
But what good is good without the presence of evil? Gardens cannot be stocked only with the useful and wholesome. Weeds make life interesting. Whoever said gardening means calm and quiet has yet to take on weeds. Only way to excise evil: hand-to-hand combat.
Doing battle with a small sprig of heart-shaped leaves and dainty lavender blossoms that hide a monstrous stem, hooked thorns and a root twisted deep into the ground set up a whole afternoon of reflection. Where is the master gardener that can create a hybrid of the persistence and endurance of evil, crossed with the purity and beneficence of good?
Old-time gardeners bargained with good and evil, according to the “Old Customs and old wives fables” collected in Margaret Baker’s “The Gardener’s Folklore”.
My secondhand hardbound copy traces that in the British Isles and North America, the “greatest body of gardening lore… revolves round Good Friday”. This is influenced by Christianity and pre-Christian belief in the White Goddess or Mother Earth, the “feminine principle” of fertility and rebirth guiding agrarian communities.
One English gardener expressed the pre-Christian belief in Satan’s hold over everything beneath the earth: “Seeds go to hell to make their obedience to their Master before they come up for you.” By planting on Good Friday, consecrated by the Lord’s sacrifice, a gardener eliminated or shortened the journey a seed had to make to the underworld.
Baker cited the American practice of treating Good Friday as the best day for spraying fruit trees. Devon gardeners swear that anything planted or grafted on Good Friday “grows goody”.
In Britain, Good Friday is the “right and proper day” for planting potato. This 390-year-old practice is quite a “neophyte” among superstitions, observes Baker. A High Anglican and Methodist talked about Good Friday as “spud day,” with the former commenting on the symbolism of putting a “dead-looking thing into the earth, knowing that it will come up again.”
What about weeds? Some old-time gardeners believe weeds were placed to curse the ground for Eve and Adam’s disobedience. Others believe the curse is not eternal, best uprooted when the moon is full because, according to the ancients, no plant will germinate when it is struck at its peak.
To Christian or pagan, the garden is an arena of good and evil.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s April 5, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”