For Everything There is a Purpose

Eleanor Deckert

We eat their stems and roots. We eat their seeds and fruits. Yes, I'm talking about plants, again.

This time, I'd like to invite you to imagine a herb garden I visited in Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in 2007. Like other botanical gardens around the world, like a zoo for plants, there was a collection of exotic species from all corners of the world. Tropical swamp plants lived in a steamy greenhouse. Round, tall, fuzzy, spiked, even flowering varieties of cactus both massive and tiny flourished in a glass house with dry, gravely beds. There was a rose bed, cherry trees, a daffodil hill, massive oak trees, delicate ferns, lily pads in ponds, flowering trees and tall grasses, deep beds for children to come and tend a vegetable patch.

Admission is free every Tuesday and I took advantage of that gift again and again.

Bringing a sketchpad with me, I tried to capture the Japanese pond, bridges, ornaments, turtles and arched grove. The bonsai trees were fascinating. 'People Watching' is another favourite pastime as wee ones, elderly and many nationalities stroll the pathways.

However enjoyable each view is, there was one place I stopped to really study. It was the herb garden. Reading the name tags, recognizing many plants, I gradually realized how much effort had been put into the collections and how the plants were arranged according to their purpose.

First I drew the geometric borders. Deep green and light green, smooth and textured low-growing, carefully clipped hedges bordered the beds so the visitor could stroll through pathways and see the collections up close.

Next, I began to list the names of the plants according to the categories they were grouped in.

The Culinary plants were most familiar. In fact, in my garden at home I have: rhubarb, mint, chives, and I certainly eat: onion, tarragon, celery, garlic, parsley, cardamom, sugar beets, kohlrabi, kale, strawberry, oregano, asparagus. But I have never heard of Good-King-Henry.

Moving on to the Medicinal patch, there were names both new and familiar: Milkweed, Scotch thistle, senna, black cohosh, cowslip, plantain, boneset, motherwort, yarrow, horehound. I wonder what they are all used for?

Across the walkway, I became curious to see the garden labeled: Smoking, Drinking, Chewing: Catnip, raspberry, lemon balm, bergamot, pokeweed, bee balm, hops, wormwood, anise, and hyssop.

I felt a chill to read the sign: Poisons, but regained my interest with the nearby Curiosity: Vervain, belladonna, licorice, poison hemlock, false dittany, princess feather, flea bane.

Pondering the abundance, realizing the missing plants like pepper, cinnamon, cloves, more medicinals, dangerous poisons, tastes to enjoy, I felt a little dizzy.

“Let the earth bring forth vegetation, plants yielding seed and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind upon the earth.” God spoke and it was so (Genesis 1: 11) Or could these amazing varieties have begun when an inanimate speck of mineral decided to gather light, carbon dioxide and water, photosynthesize its own food and reproduce by evolution?

We humans name and categorize, plant and harvest, brew dyes and press oils, store and combine, grind and boil, invent mixtures and medicines, breed and cross pollinate, but we cannot actually make something new. If we can't take inanimate matter and fuse it somehow to burst forth with life, how could a blob of mud generate life all on its own?

To me, the entire world of plant life is layered with wonder upon wonder. As a child, I used to imagine that the sky was a dark blue velvet curtain and the stars were pinholes showing the light up in God's workshop (a little like Santa's North Pole). I especially remember being amazed at daffodils. I could imagine God up there carving out the first specimen and nodding with satisfaction, “Yes, this is it! I made an entirely new kind of flower!” and sending it down to earth to reproduce!

My theology has developed a lot since then, but I still like to pause and allow my heart to fill with wonder.

As I tend my tiny sprouting garden, as I take that first juicy bite into a crisp apple, as I admire the neighbour’s flower beds, as I enjoy the colourful dyes of the clothes I am wearing, or savour my favourite morning tea, I am grateful to the Creator for including such variety and abundance while thinking up each kind of plant... especially those flavourful and powerful herbs.

“You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and herbs for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man's heart.”  Psalm 104: 14-15.