Yesterday I had a long chat, at least an hour and a half, if not two. It was with a woman who has been tending our garden while all three of us were away from Port Augusta. Now I am back by myself, she will keep coming while I look after the inside. At first I was indignant with the thought that I could not look after our own garden, but realised that it is a meaningful job for her that she does much better than me.

I say that she was ‘tending’ the garden, while I would be merely ‘looking after’ it, because that is exactly what she does. She has an instinctive and loving knowledge of each plant, what it needs, what it fears, what it hopes. This one is just bursting to get out of the pot, that one is miserable next to the fence. She will berate them when they get out of hand and admire them when they do well.

In yesterday’s conversation I learned so much from her, a retired ‘toilet lady’ and gardener at the school. She was proud of her humble jobs and nothing could shock or scare her, being also an actor and pantomimist. She has seen a lot in her time and proves daily that she has life and energy and strength to match those much younger and fitter. Not only has she been watering our garden, but (on her own initiative), planting, transplanting, pruning, sweeping, cleaning, mending and even washing my car!  

Her practical wisdom and experience, brought into mind two conversations I’ve had in the past few weeks. While they came from very different people, they ended the same way. One was an asylum seeker who had been beaten up by the military and lived in hiding for a year. The other was a prisoner who had been in for years and suffered with mental health issues. Both told me that they really wanted to work in nursing homes, with old people. Both said how they really appreciated those who society often disregards, how they have so much wisdom and experience to share. They inspired me and perhaps made me more ready to listen to, and learn from, our gardener. In Proverbs it says, “Grey hair is a crown of glory” (16:31) – may we recognise it like my thoughtful friends.