As I rested in the shade after a morning of hard work I considered some of the lessons my garden has taught me during the upheaval we call 2020. I gave thanks for the privilege of having a piece of soil and the health to till and plant it. I reminded myself that I must pay attention in the garden because garden experiences often morph into spiritual lessons. And I really need those, now more than ever.
Plants fizzle without properly prepared soil.
Jesus shared a parable, reported by Matthew, Mark and Luke, about a sower who dropped seeds on different types of soil. Seeds sprinkled on the sidewalk or tossed into the landscape stones rarely produce thriving plants. We’re floundering in negativity and gloom. Mix in a heap of uncertainty created from the factions and lawlessness surrounding us. Try to make sense of the financial world to form a solid plan for tomorrow. It’s overwhelming. In short order my heart can become stony, paralyzed with fear and worry. I stop listening to God and standing on His promises. I lose interest in His plans and purposes, especially as they relate to the twenty-four hours He gives me each day. That’s poor soil, and it will not produce a bountiful harvest.
Plants thrive when the impediments are removed.
The maple tree just beyond the porch railing affected more than half of the usable space in our front lawn and gardens. Its companion, a poplar, controlled the remaining space. Our flower gardens struggled. I battled tree roots each season, digging and chopping them in an attempt to control the spread. The more compost and water I added to the gardens the faster the tree roots detected the bonanza and dispatched feelers to purloin the goods. We removed the trees, and the results have been stunning. Rarely a week passes without neighbors stopping to share how much they love the gardens, especially Shawn’s roses. Butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and birds twitter from plant to plant. And we have front row seats from either the porch rockers or the swing.
Jesus gave this instruction in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” I have no shortage of distractions to consume my time and divide my focus. I can waste hours scrolling through social media or vegging on a diet of junk television, but when I stop to check my overall path is it positive and in line with the command Jesus gave? Am I moving in the right direction? Am I becoming more Christ-like and bringing glory to God? Do I reflect Him in my sphere of influence?
Pruning makes a difference.
Deadheading is a function of gardening that many neglect. The hot sun, flies and mosquitoes make the task even harder. Does pruning matter? From experience I answer with a resounding, “Yes!” New shoots and buds will pop out after the cut, filling in the space and prolonging the gardener’s joy.
Trimming the one or two leaf branches from the lower portion of a baby tree may seem cruel, but wait. Over time with consistent attention that tree explodes with growth and becomes an anchor in the garden.
This is a new addition to our garden in 2020, a Chinese sassafras ( Sassafras tzumu). With focused pruning we have seen the main trunk shoot up a foot with a similar increase in spread in one season. Can’t wait to see the color of the leaves in fall.
We have a Japanese maple, grown from a seed by my brother Jeff, overlooking our garden pond. With deliberate pruning Shawn has directed that tree’s growth to shield the pond to discourage birds of prey from enjoying a fish sandwich for lunch. Yes, it is work to make those cuts, and we must remain vigilant.
The Master Gardener has a plan, a purpose for my life. He will cut and trim and shape to direct my growth toward that purpose.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
John 15:1-2 NASB
Support the pollinators.
Our salvia plants teem with bumble bees scrambling from bloom to bloom for the best selection. Some bees bore holes in siding. Wasps build nests in the most unlikely places. Are they pests to be controlled and exterminated? The undeniable truth is that pollinators are key to the fruitful garden. Nothing can take their place. So move over. Make room. Leave bare spots for the bumble bees to tunnel out their homes. Plan for natural areas rather than wall-to-wall grass. Include native plants that bees love even though those may not necessarily have the best presentation. Be considerate in the use of pesticides and herbicides.
I’m not in this gardening thing, or in life for that matter, on my own. I need others. I depend on their contributions. One would think that a global pandemic might make us all just a wee bit kinder and more considerate of others. Have we taken time to thank the teen bagging up our grocery purchases at the store? Does the nurse at the doctor’s office know how much we appreciate her being at work, and have we shown the least bit of concern for her poor hands that must be washed a thousand times a day?
Never give up.
Humidity, mosquitoes, ear-exploring gnats, biting flies, drought or monsoon (sometimes in the same week), incorrigible neighborhood dogs and cats, exploding populations of rabbits and squirrels – it’s enough to make a gardener throw in the trowel. We can’t, though, can we? The gardening bug bites, and we’re hooked for life. As Mom’s departure for heaven grew closer she instructed me, “You be sure you dig up those daffodils by the fence and take them home to your garden.” Her last concern as we moved her to a medical facility was, “Who will take care of my plants?”
My daughter, Amanda, has captured the sentiment in her keychain design (also available as a sticker now applied to my car’s dashboard).
Life and gardening are long-term endeavors.
Enjoy the precious produce of the soil.
I tend to be a list gardener. I hit the shop, grab my boots, and check the clipboard where I’ve scribbled notes as to what needs to be completed in that session. Truthfully the list never empties because the more I garden the more I find to do. My years are slowing me down now, and I’m learning to take breaks on the garden bench to actually observe and enjoy. I realize that some projects take more than one season, and some plants mature slowly. Patience can be as vital as sun, nutrients, and water for the gardener.
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.
James 5:7 NASB
Note: Opening image is Veronica “Royal Candles” which came to our garden from a vendor at the NC State Farmer’s Market.