Every time I close the arched cobalt blue door behind me and enter Cranbrook’s Sunken Garden my breath catches in my throat. It is just so beautiful. I volunteer in the garden (nearly) weekly during the summer, digging and planting, weeding and uprooting. I return home tired, dirty and achy. And I say a silent blessing of thanks that I have the opportunity to work in this little piece of Eden here in Southeastern Michigan. It’s one thing to visit a spectacular public garden; it’s quite another to work in one, to be a part of it soil, root and petal.

We are a motley group — voluteers of all ages and both sexes, bound by the pleasure of digging in the dirt, making things grow, taking delight as each week brings new color and pattern. We are also bound by an intense dislike of hungry rabbits and visitors who ignore the signs and bring their dogs. Above all we are bound by a commitment to preserve this treasure. We are the Garden’s stewards; I feel no sense of ownership, just gratitude that the garden is here for me to enjoy and tend.

The Garden Mother (yes, that is what each woman who heads up a garden is called) took it on a quarter century ago — cultivating the earth so that it now crumbles in my palm soft as oatmeal flakes. Over the years she and others cleared and planted, experimented and replanted. She knows flowers not only by blossom and leaf but by root as well. She is forgiving of a neophyte’s mistakes and careless feet. “Plants grow back, that’s the beauty of them,” she says, her eyes blue as the bachelor buttons she has just transplanted.

There are such gardens large and small in every community. Most, if not all, depend on eager volunteers willing to get dirty, to weed and water, with no expectation of gain other than the pure joy of working in a place of beauty. If you have a couple of extra hours in your week (and even if you don’t!) consider spending them at a nearby garden. You will reap so much more than you will sow.

Local Michigan photographer E.C. Campbell spent an afternoon at Cranbrook. Her photos are on her blog. Scroll down for one of the blue door.