UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO / Spring 2008
Garden is a Verb
by Julene Snyder
photograhy by Barbara Ferguson

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Once you start noticing, it’s hard to stop. Now you walk all the time with your head tilting this way and that, eyes darting up and down, glancing from side to side, craning your head, now way down low, next way up high. Everywhere you look, there are buds and branches, pods and blooms, tendrils and blossoms, stretching toward the sun, doing their ancient dance of ebb and flow, renewal and rebirth, world without end. And even though it was all there before — in a manner of speaking, at least — now that you really see it, you can’t not see it anymore.

You already knew, at least a little, about the history of the place, about how Mother Rosalie Hill famously talked about beauty and how that might be the first thing that attracted people to the university. But now you know specifics. You know that the elegant, towering cypress were deliberately placed next to buildings for the pleasing contrast they provided against the walls. And that the nuns would start palms from little seeds in gallon cans, and now those palm trees tower above the patio between Camino and Founders. You can picture them, dirt beneath their fingernails, habits swirling as they moved with great purpose through the dusty grounds of the College for Women, carrying shovels, planting flowers, pruning roses, and making sure that Mother Hill’s dream of beauty became a reality.

You know — everybody knows — that the campus is gorgeous, but now you also know that Alice Hayes, who was president for years and years, was herself a botanist, and that she used to walk the grounds and inspect the plants after Mass every Sunday. You know that she once noticed a fungus on one of the trees and stopped to confer with the gardener about the best way to treat it and that when she talks about the campus, even now, she marvels at Mother Hill’s vision, noting that usually people talk about starting with truth to lead to beauty and wind up with good, but when it came to the University of San Diego, she started with beauty, and that has made all the difference.

And even though they may not notice (not like you do, not all the time, anyway), the students can’t help but be affected by the outrageous display of the Floss Silk Tree in bloom, by the more sedate offerings of the roses, by the patios’ cool havens of ferns and palms and flowering trees, offering up not just prettiness, but respite from the world and its worries, a place to sit, to think, to talk, to read, or to just be, noticing that everywhere you look there is something oh so pleasing to your eye. And you sigh, and you let your eyes close, and for that moment, you are just there, being, in the moment.

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