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One benefit of "shelter in place" — planting a garden with family

Gardening with Reverence: 7 Guiding Principles

Gardening with reverence is about stewarding the beauty and therapeutic qualities of Mother Nature. It is conscientious earth stewardship that honors nature and strives to use informed ways to do the least harm. This article shares 7 Guiding Principles that may help you with your own gardening ethics.

For over 34 years we have renewed the seasonal dance of gardening at our 22-acre Cortesia Sanctuary (the home of Cortesia Herbal Products). Our commitment to organic gardening is exemplified in our herbal remedies, made with utmost reverence for health. Let me briefly explain.

In our 2-acre garden, our family has grown organic, nutrient-rich soil, created a balanced diversity of plants and ecosystem, nurtured beneficial insects and wildlife, and created an overall sense of a natural sanctuary among towering woods. We have eaten the food we grow, and we have created restorative remedies for family and friends, constantly experimenting with Nature’s therapeutic gems in the garden: herbs.

Many years ago, we created 7 Principles of Gardening with Reverence to guide our efforts. Perhaps these seven principles may help your garden become a backyard sanctuary, both for you, your family, and Mother Nature.

1.    All of Earth is a Garden

First think big. Consider that planet Earth is quite a lovely little garden in this corner of the galaxy! It is worthy of our honor and respect. One’s garden is a means to enhance the well-being and ecology of Earth, Nature and humanity by gardening with respect and gratitude.

Now think small. Consider that saving the earth in your own backyard demonstrates your commitment and attitude about all of Earth. Your garden is where you practice the philosophy of reverence for life. You learn about sustainable water stewardship, critters, the effects of erosion or poison, and much more. You appreciate your garden AND Earth within the same breath of admiration and devotion.

2.    Nature is a vast web of interdependency of which humans are only part

Nature’s “web of life” is alive in the garden. We can humbly take part in this seasonal drama by observing, learning, and understanding Nature’s subtle and dramatic workings.

Through our garden, we can become a student of Nature’s actors: soil, microorganisms, insects, plants, animals, minerals, natural forces such as wind, rain, sun, and more. Consequently, we can learn how to restore, regenerate, and sustain Nature. It short, gardening allows us to practice applying a reverent attitude to Earth everywhere, starting with our own yard.

3.    The value of Nature is as much for itself as for humans

We should be grateful for the opportunity to co-create with Nature. However, we need to know when to simply observe Nature at work and play in our garden. Reverence for life suggests that, in the spirit of cooperation rather than domination and control, not all of our efforts may be appropriate.

In truth, the value of our garden is for Nature as much as we believe it is for our own enjoyment. Sometimes we need to see things with a little humility: we’re as much a guest in our garden as a passing butterfly. Sitting quietly in our pea patch to simply take it all in is an easy way to put things in perspective. Just ask that butterfly!

4.    Gardening is an opportunity to engage in honorable effort

Gardening brings tens of millions of people back to ancient roots every year. Consequently, in partnership with Nature, we can be noble stewards — for a moment, an hour, a season, and a lifetime. We can learn to be patient, observant and curious, having faith in the mystery of Nature, without harsh judgment.

Above all, we can learn to evoke awe, wonder, and wisdom in our gardening efforts. These reverent qualities can guide the tools we use and our intuitive efforts. They can help us to create beauty amidst function.

5.    The process of gardening is as desirable as the end product

Gardening allows us to learn about Nature and ourselves. We should strive for a balanced philosophy and practice that embraces the wise and creative use of intuition as well as an honorable and intelligent use of science and technology. Such gardening “tools” should cause the least harm to all without sacrificing the garden or Nature’s overall integrity.

Very importantly, gardening with reverence can teach us to temper our expectation for “desired results” — bigger or brighter this, pest or weed-free that, and so on. Letting go some of our control may help us enjoy the process of hanging out with Nature more.

6.    A garden should be beautiful as well as nutritious

We should strive to create a peaceful refuge that nourishes and nurtures, giving optimally nutritious food for the body and replenishing food for the soul.

The highest compliment to a garden is to perceive it as an inspiring sanctuary, not just solely a vegetable patch or lawn — a place to safely get away from it all! Sitting areas, water features, sacred and profane art, color, lighting, wonderful plants, and more are key to creating a beautiful experience. They also can dress up the veggie patch with style!

7.    Give back to Nature and your garden more than you take

Here is a wonderful motto to live by: Live like you won’t be here tomorrow; have reverence and compassion for Earth as if you will be here forever.

An ethic of reverence for life encourages the practice of good stewardship in these ways in the garden:

  • Sustain and regenerate the garden’s soil, recycle waste via composting or mulching, and conserve water.
  • Encourage diversity of plants, native vegetation, and desirable wildlife.
  • Foster the use of heirloom seeds and seed-saving.
  • Use the least toxic inputs for both soil and plant.
  • Grow only as much as needed or to share with others while offering a portion to the garden’s wildlife.
  • Finally, educate others on how to be an Earth-friendly, reverent gardener — both by example and knowledge.
garden happy

To learn more about our love for gardening, check out our popular garden guides available at

Home Composting Made Easy (Cortesia Press) — over 2 million in print!
Grow Your Own Food Made Easy (Cortesia Press) — over 300,000 in print!
The Sanctuary Garden: Creating a Place of Refuge in Your Yard and Garden (Fireside Books, 1998) — out-of-print; used copies available from Amazon or Powell’s Books


Forrest McDowell

C. Forrest McDowell, PhD provides his 50 years of expertise in wellness care and advocacy to Cortesia Herbal Products. He is responsible for the white paper Blog articles, posts promoting practical health strategies, maintenance of accurate website information, and more. An accomplished performing guitarist and composer, author, and passionate outdoorsman, he has dedicated himself to natural wellness and the cultivation of quality organic products.

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