What "The Garden Detroit" Means to Me, by Tom Milano

             On the surface, The Garden Detroit is a Michigan nonprofit organization that repurposes vacant land in Detroit into cut flower farms and sanctuary gardens. In just three years we have developed a comprehensive floral service business and turned our flower farm - Detroit Abloom - into a beautiful urban oasis. Yet for me, The Garden Detroit represents something much more profound.

            The letter “T” in The Garden Detroit is capitalized because I believe the real “garden” we are meant to manifest is The Garden of Eden within us, nay, that is the very essence of our being. Throughout history native peoples, ancient civilizations, and religions, believed there was a span  of tens of thousands of years when a heaven-like existence prevailed in human society. This outer state of existence has been called The Golden Ages, The Kingdom of God or The Garden of Eden. Since we live in a world based on the law of cause and effect, that heaven-like existence on Earth was the “effect” that resulted from an underlying “cause,” which was our ancient ancestors love for their Creator and all Creation. Put simply, their love created an outer state of equality, harmony and prosperity.

            One view on human history suggests that animal eating and all the ensuing forms of human oppression gradually corrupted the soul of humanity, casting us into a world of human-made problems. Just as a forgotten fortune cannot benefit anyone, our soul’s innate love for all life cannot benefit anyone if we do not recognize its existence. Albert Schweitzer, who received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence for Life,” wisely said, “Truly, to restore the earth, we must first restore ourselves. The inner and outer worlds are inseparable. They must be harmonious.” This wisdom is our perfect starting point, because it makes crystal clear that bringing forth The Garden in Detroit would depend on enough of us restoring our individual consciousness.

            So, how must our inner world be restored? In a nutshell, we are all in illusion because we think and act as though our primary identities are merely these material human bodies. Incredible as it may seem, this bodily conception of life is the root cause of all human conflict and suffering. The reason is that the bodily conception of life causes us to falsely believe we are separate from our Creator and one another. The truth is that each of us is an eternal soul, a unique personality full of spiritual knowledge and bliss, temporarily encased in a body. Only when we begin to realize the nature of our soul-identity can we value just how much we are all family, absolute equals and here to help one another on our path back home to Godhead.

            And it gets even better! All religions teach that if we seek The Garden first and live righteously, ALL THINGS WILL BE ADDED. In other words, all good things such as abundant health, prosperity, happiness, peace, and true self-expression will be ours, by God’s grace, if we allow our consciousness to be purified enough so that these blessings can easily flow through us.

            As projects unfold in Detroit and the landscape changes for the better, there is a great deal of enthusiasm and a growing sense that something bigger than all of us is brewing under the surface. From a spiritual perspective, I believe we are being brought together and called upon to inspire the world, but not through our material achievements alone. Most importantly, we are meant to bring into expression The Garden in our souls, for this has always been the ultimate purpose of humankind.

            The Garden doesn’t grow by itself. It depends on us sowing seeds of love and tending to them.  The seeds can be all sorts of things – our spiritual practices, the people we help to raise out of poverty, injustice and despair, a listening ear, an encouraging word, a warm smile. They are our prayers, the hurts we forgive, the most vulnerable we protect, the kindness we share, the family members, neighbors and even enemies we love and forgive.

            My friends, the loving seeds we plant will take root and grow, allowing the presence of The Garden to be realized more and more each day in our midst if we remain persistent in spreading them. We are not only the sowers of The Garden’s seeds; we help to manifest The Garden when we commit ourselves to its values. The core value of The Garden, the one upon which all values rest, is to love as God loves with unconditional compassion for all living beings.

            Where an individual with a heart full of love walks, so walks The Garden. And where a city full of loving people blossoms, so blossoms a city that can inspire widespread healing, community and love. Detroit is well-known for giving the world the automobile, and Motown music. Now let’s give it the greatest and most awaited innovation ever - a magnificent outpouring of love that could lead to world peace.

            My deepest wish is that we transform Detroit by transforming our own consciousness, that we not only repurpose vacant buildings and land but repurpose vacant hearts and souls, and that we join in a common vision to reveal The Garden in Detroit. 

           

 

Why Flowers Inspire my Faith in God, by Tom Milano

For over forty years I've been teaching about the spirituality of vegetarianism and our sacred relationship with the animal kingdom. Now that I'm working with others to develop a vision about how cut flower farming can help revitalize at least 1% of all the vacant blighted land in Detroit, I'd like to share with you what flowers are teaching me about God.

To begin with, natural things like flowers didn't come about by chance or natural selection. Just like every other aspect of the natural world, flowers are creations that exemplify the exquisite handiwork of God.  As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, "Know that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from a spark of My splendor." Through nature, God is able to teach us, speak to us, and provide for us. It should be fairly obvious to most that God made flowers to provide for us, for the bulk of the food we eat comes from flowering plants. But to "see" how God uses flowers to teach us and speak to us, our hearts and souls must behold what our physical eyes cannot discern.

"For since the creation of the world," Paul explains in Romans from the Bible, "God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."  In other words, once we realize that we're meant to know and love God, and that God designed this world to help us regain our original God consciousness, His invisible love for us can be so clearly "seen" in His creations, that even nonbelievers and idolaters are left without excuse.

When I look - and I mean really look - at flowers, I'm always astonished by their appearances. Their colors, shapes, textures, lifestyles and scents are endlessly fascinating to my physical senses and mind. But, I don't want to be deceived by appearances, because I know God didn't create flowers to merely bind our attention to the material world. Rather, He made them so inconceivably beautiful that we would eventually choose not to be fooled by their mere appearance anymore and ask, "Who made these? There must be some supreme intelligence that designed these flowers." And thus, instead of becoming merely fixated on their appearance, flowers can teach us how to become fixated on their Creator, which is the ultimate purpose of human life.

This willingness on our part to be shown a higher truth will allow God to give us the vision to see that which may have been invisible to us until now, namely His divine qualities and His love for us. In the words of the 17th century French Jesuit priest Jean Pierre de Caussade, who wrote Abandonment to Divine Providence, "God disguises himself so that we may reach that pure faith which enables us to recognize him under any appearance. How mistaken we are not to see you in everything." And how mistaken we are not to see Him in the magnificent world of flowers!

Although God is omnipresent, meaning there is no place in the universe where He is not present, He is not everything. Lord Krishna, the Personality of Godhead, clarifies this point in the Bhagavad Gita, "And yet everything that is created does not rest in Me. Behold my mystic opulence! Although I am the maintainer of all living entities, and although I am everywhere, still my Self is the very source of creation." Yes, God is "present" inside everything, including humans, animals and flowers, but that does not make a person, animal or flower God. Material creations are not identical with divinity. In other words, worshiping anything in nature is not as valid as worshiping its Creator and Sustainer. That's why monotheistic religions forbid the worship of items in nature. While God is omnipresent, we want to see Him as separate from His creation, because the view that the creation and God is identical, implies a denial of the personality and transcendence of God.

In the Vedic scriptures of India, there is only one definition for the word "love" - bhava, which means love of God. This fact implies that because God is omnipresent and the truth that underlies all appearances, you can not love anyone or anything without loving God. Bearing this in mind, instead of my being endlessly fascinated by flowers - whether it is a dahlia, daisy or dandelion - I want to be endlessly fascinated by the mercy of God who created each and every one of these masterpieces. It gives me great faith to know that He made flowers to help coax us out of the human tendency to separate ourselves from Him and His creation. For me, therefore, flowers are becoming outstretched fingers that point to God, everyone of them preaching a sermon to my soul.

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In Jean Pierre de Caussade's words, "There is no peace more wonderful than the peace we enjoy when faith shows us God in all created things. All that is dark becomes light, and what is bitter sweet."  My wish is that as God shows me how to love Him and see Him beyond the appearance of flowers, and all other appearances for that matter, I will learn how to love Him everywhere.

 

 

Why I Believe God Wants me to Garden, by Tom Milano


Growing up in Long Island, New York, I spent most of my leisure time exploring the outdoors, fascinated by the beauty and mystery of the natural world. My idea of paradise was raw nature - woods, fields, ponds and swamps, teeming with life. Living in Suffolk County, which was at that time the fastest growing county in the United States for over five years in a row, it became increasingly more difficult for me to witness the horrors of urbanization. I dreaded seeing pockets of nature destroyed in the name of progress. It didn't seem progressive to see many natural habitats I had grown up with turned into housing subdivisions and strip malls.

As far back as I can remember, my love for nature has been mixed with growing dismay about humanity's social problems and our runaway destruction of the environment. I had always hoped that humankind would eventually come to its senses and live peacefully, preserve what remains of the natural world and restore what we have damaged. But the trends always seemed more worrisome than reassuring. Although I didn't realize it at the time, my concern for nature would lead me on a life-long spiritual quest.

After obtaining a masters degree in biology, I was three weeks away from becoming a high school biology teacher when I felt that if I left home and traveled I would find the answers to two questions that burned in my mind, "What is the root cause of humanity's problems, and how can they be stopped?" I bicycled cross country and back-packed around the world for three years on $2,400, living close to the people and the land. As I studied religions every where i traveled, it gradually dawned on me that there is only one religion - to love God and all living beings.

What does religion say about solving humanity's problems? I didn't have to look far. Everywhere I went, from jungles in South East Asia where I lived with indigenous people struggling to preserve their traditions, to villages and cities, I observed the stark contrast between what remains of the ancient spiritual cultures of the Old World, and the influence of the materialistic-minded Western world. Spiritual-minded people appeared to live much more harmoniously then most Westerners. Gradually I understood that God-realization is the ultimate purpose of human life and the answer to resolving the world's human-made problems.

In 1975, shortly after traveling around India for six months searching for the truth, I joined the Hare Krishna Movement in Geneva, Switzerland. The Vedic philosophy, based on the ancient teachings of the Vedas (books of spiritual knowledge compiled some 5,000 years ago), resonates with my soul. Even though I have more faults then you can shake a stick at, I have a growing desire to see God in everyone and everything. Whether I work with people or nature, I try to find some measure of God in what I do by training myself to behold the presence and activity of God in my life. So, instead of merely loving the "appearance" of nature, like I did before I knew the purpose of human life, I am developing my love for God (Who I refer to as Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead) Who not only created and sustains the natural world, but resides in the heart of all living creatures.

Gardening, for me, then, is a God-given activity that can help me develop my love for God. Surely, we humans can not improve on nature - God's "outer garment" - but gardening can be a means for us to co-create with God. What I mean by "co-create" is to work with the consciousness of pleasing God by helping to facilitate His will. In his book, The New Organic Grower, Eliot Coleman says, "The secret to success in agriculture is to remove the limiting factors to plant growth." He continues, "Drop a seed in the ground and it wants to grow. The common wisdom possessed by successful farmers is that they understand how to help the seed do what it is already determined to do." This principle also applies to our human condition, for the secret to our success in spiritual life is to remove the limiting barriers to our spiritual growth. In truth, everything about gardening can be seen in a spiritual context, everything from preparing fertile soil, to planting and nurturing seeds, to pulling weeds, to bearing spiritual fruits.

From the perspective of self-realization, whatever I do is meaningful only if it invokes within me an attraction for the message of the Lord. Looked at in this light, I've found that gardening helps me stay my mind on God. For instance, having practiced vegetarianism for over forty-five years, I often marvel at how God provides us with an astonishingly healthful and delicious plant-based diet so that we don't have to kill and eat animals for food. Indeed, by His grace, a reasonably well-balanced diet of whole plant-based foods is guaranteed to give us all the essential nutrients we need. And when I see how God provides for the plant and animal kingdoms without any worry on their part, I can't help but think about how God takes care of our human needs, whether we worry or not.

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Fantastic as it may sound, for over ninety-five percent of our existence on this planet, we were termed hunter-gatherers, with much more emphasize on gathering than hunting. Before we humans worked by the sweat of our brows, we collected fruits, nuts, seeds, roots, shoots, blossoms and greens from a smorgasbord of God-given foodstuffs. Knowing this, I pull weeds begrudgingly. Although I don't want them to overtake our gardens, I also know God made these "wild edibles" more nutritious than most of the vegetables we grow. Granted, Nancy and I will add a few pounds of lambs-quarters, dandelions and purslane to our green smoothies each season, and she freezes them for the winter, but in my mind I see weeds feeding and healing the masses.

 

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Vibrant green hues remind me that dark green, leafy plants are the most important food group, by far. Why? Because God designed chlorophyll molecules (the green pigment in plants) to be so similar to hemoglobin molecules that they purify our blood and help keep our bodies fit for God-realization. In fact, the only difference between the two molecules is that hemoglobin has one central atom of iron, whereas chlorophyll has one of magnesium.

For me, gardening can be humbling. It's no wonder much of it is done on one's knees. Indeed, the root of the word "humility" comes from the Latin humus, which means "earth" or "ground." Although working on one's knees may be humbling, what I find most humbling is knowing that God planted within us the desire to tend to His Garden so that we may come to know Him.

Amazing Tulips!

"Flowers heal me, tulips make me happy." Rebecca Wells

Indeed it’s true that tulips make us happy! They are one of the first bouquet blooms of the season, telling us that spring is truly here.

While tulips are classified as a perennial, it's a different matter to get them to behave that way. It all depends on your climate and the variety you're growing. Tulips are originally from the Himalayas and the steppes of Turkey in central Asia where the winters are very cold and the summers hot and dry. Getting tulips to not only return the next season, but also multiply means matching those climate conditions. Many gardeners, and especially us flower farmers, treat tulips as annuals and replant them each fall since the bulbs need a cold period of at least ten weeks. The variety is important as well. Darwin and Triumph varieties tend to be better at perennializing.

  Wild Tulip -   T. clusiana

Wild Tulip - T. clusiana

Its always fascinating to discover what a plant originally looked like before we humans started tinkering with it. In the case of wild or "species" tulips as they're called, they're shorter, maybe only 8" in height. Most species varieties have pointed petals. They re-bloom reliably, spread more every season, and best of all stay in bloom for up to four weeks. We planted T. clusiana three autumns ago and they developed into nice little stands of early dependable, easy to maintain garden color.

Tulips can be planted for naturalizing, rock gardens, forcing, landscape gardens and of course for cut flowers! Here's a link to a description of the different types. 

But, back to reality and our current stars of Detroit Abloom. We absolutely fell in love with three varieties this season (so far!). Let me introduce you to the lovely Angelique.  She's delicate in pink hues against creamy white, but produces strong straight stems. Her petals are soft and ruffly, resembling a peony bloom. It's no surprise that she is one of the most popular tulip varieties. 

 

 Angelique, semi-Double

Angelique, semi-Double

Our second favorite tulip this season was Exotic Emperor. We were anticipating him daily as he is an early bloomer and the first of our tulips.  The Exotic Emperor is in the Fosteriana grouping. These tulips also known as Emperor tulips are usually the first tulips to bloom. They're also known for they're huge wide petals and striping. Fosterianas are extremely popular for landscaping in European gardens, where they come in vivid colors and bloom at the same time as daffodils.

 Exotic EMPEROR, fosteriana

Exotic EMPEROR, fosteriana

Store-bought tulips usually only last 3-5 days in the vase. Our tulips, cut when just showing color or in the case of doubles just opening, last at least a week. Here's the Exotic Emperor at 9 days.

 

 Exotic Emperor - 9th day

Exotic Emperor - 9th day

This lovely deep rose pink double tulip is called Aveyron. She has green markings on her outer petals and opens to a full peony-like blossom. She has sturdy stems and is long lasting in the vase. She's on our list for 2018!

 aveyron, late double

aveyron, late double

If you aren't in love or fascinated by tulips yet, perhaps these amazing facts will sway you!

Did you know that tulip petals are edible? They have an oniony taste and during WWII when many people were starving, tulip petals were used as an onion replacement. It's hard to imagine, but people also made tulip bread and tulip wine. 

The first striped tulips were found by Austrian Carolus Clusius about 1594. He determined that the stripes were caused by a virus. He labeled these as - "broken tulips". It was later discovered that the virus actually was not harmful.

The Dutch are responsible for the breeding of today's tulips and are the leading exporters of the bulbs - around 6 billion bulbs annually. 

In the 1600's, a period known as "tulip mania" occurred, which is now seen as the first economic bubble collapse. At it's high point, bulbs were used as a form of currency and a single bulb was so valuable that you could buy a house with it.

Tulips are sweetly scented!

Last but not least, tulips grow after being cut! I mean they seriously grow! The petals elongate and the stems can continue to grow upwards to six inches.

Happy Spring!

Nancy