It's the instantly recognized symbol of humankind's humble beginnings: the garden. As soulful pursuits hit the mainstream, mainstream gardeners are looking to the plant kingdom for spiritual renewal. In her Laguna Beach garden, Judith Handelsman, author of "Growing Myself: A Spiritual Journey Through Gardening" (Dutton) and host of the Odyssey Channel's upcoming cable show "Inner Gardens," talks about her meeting with another "spiritual" gardener--Prince Charles. (After reading her book, he invited Handelsman to Highgrove.)
Q: What's inner gardening?
A: It's gardening with the heart. It's putting your soul into the garden and making real connections. There's unconditional love pouring out of these plants all the time and it's not a question of "Is it happening?" It's a question of "Can we feel it?" It's not an intellectual thing, it's a love thing.
Q: What was it like to meet Prince Charles?
A: I was scared to death. But I'd somehow always felt like I knew his soul--that he was a soul brother. I always felt I knew his pain and understood the way he related to his plants and gardens.
A: It was just you two?
Q: Me and him and his dogs--the corgis. I found him very loving and gentle, an incredibly gentle person. Very sensitive, very deep, very spiritual and sincerely concerned about people and what's happening in the world. And he's very handsome. His eyes are sharp blue. He's kind of translucent; there's a lot of light coming out of his face.
Q: Many people would be surprised that Charles works the land.
A: You can't have a garden like he has--with so much presence and soul--and not have someone working it who loves it. At one point he said excitedly: "Look, look at these pictures. This is what it looked like. It was nothing, nothing!" I said, "I know. I know!" I told him, "The plants are really happy." And he said, "You see that, don't you, you see that?"
Q: The garden is a haven, then?
A: I think he gets a lot of understanding from his garden. When I left, I said, "I hope, in the end, you have at least one person who loves and understands you." He said, "Yes, I do. Being understood, it's the most important thing, isn't it?"
Q: What's been the response to your book?
A: I've had so much mail from people who say they didn't know they felt this way until they read the book. They want to know they're not crazy, that talking to plants and having a relationship with zinnias is not nuts.