Tom Spencer on the soul of the gardener


by Susan
One of many highlights of the Gardenblogger Spring Fling in Austin was the talk by the beloved local gardening guru Tom Spencer.  (Here’sTomspencer
my rave about Tom’s site, Soul of the Garden, which won the 2007 Mousie for Gardening Site of the Year.) The talk, "Gathered Stones: Garden Memories," took us to a higher plane, and considering that we were already high as kites on the natural beauty of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, that plane’s an awfully nice place to hang out.  My frantic note-taking yields these snippets:

Gardens are human creations, not acts of nature.  Gardeners are creative people, who "try to do good by our little patch of earth."  (Great explanation of what I call "eco-gardening".)   

We’re taught to discount miracles and wonder, and Tom sees even 7-year-olds who are jaded. For kids to develop spiritually, they NEED connections with nature.

Gardening is a spiritual activity and gardeners make the world a better place (no argument there).

He’s a "follower of Christ, but not a Christian; a follower of Buddha, but not a Buddhist."

Paying attention is central to spirituality, though in our culture it’s a "countercultural activity."

Tom recommended to us: "Ordinarily Sacred" by Linda Sexton, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (a friend of his), and the poems of Mary Oliver.  He didn’t just recommend Oliver’s poems, though.  He read – with a lot of heart – her "Summer Day," my favorite line of which is "I don’t know what a prayer is.  I do know how to pay attention."

And Tom got no disagreement from this crowd of gardenbloggers when he asserted that gardeners make the world a more beautiful place – something that’s not to be discounted – and that gardenbloggers then go and share it all on the Web.  Lord knows we try.

Pam Penick’s posted our big group photo with Tom just after his talk.  Here’s the link – notice how serene we all look?


  1. The line you quoted, “try to do good by our little patch of earth,” resonated with me too. His talk was terrific, very moving and just the right counterpoint to the noisier and more active highlights of the day. While he spoke, we were all paying attention and in the moment—until my cell phone rang. Oops!

  2. I have been very interested in the spiritual aspect of certain activities. Music and fishing I’ve mused upon, and now I can add gardening. I bet the Japanese have something to say on this topic.

    See you Saturday night.

  3. Hi Susan!

    You need to find more coaching clients down in Calvert County so you have a good excuse to drop by for some tea in the garden.

    I so very much enjoyed visiting and getting to know another Maryland garden blogger! To think…we had to go all the way to Texas to meet!

    Robin at Bumblebee

  4. Hi Susan,

    We Austinites are really lucky – in addition to the website we can listen to Tom Spencer’s radio call-in show each Saturday morning and watch his TV gardening show on PBS each Saturday afternoon. He’s become the voice of Austin for many of us.

    Actually you looked pretty serene all weekend, Susan – I’m glad to have met you.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. Susan,

    Hello! I so very much enjoyed meeting you and having a chance to talk over dinner. There were aspects of Tom’s talk that spoke to me…the need to be in nature, the need to have a spiritual connection are just two of them. I regaled my husband back at the hotel with my take on Tom’s message;)

    clay and limestone

  6. Susan, you obviously take better notes than I do. It sounds like a talk that was certainly worth the notes though. Cheers for sharing the highlights.

  7. Susan,

    Well said. Tom Spencer is certainly a treasure.

    And it was a pleasure to meet you. So glad you were in my car for part of the afternoon/night.


Comments are closed.