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A Gardener’s Look at Life

gardening fork

Written by Anne Elliot, Contributing Writer

I’m not much of a gardener, but over the last few years, I’m been attempting a little bit more each summer. It started three summers ago when I planted just a few things in a small bed in the back yard. A friend of mine had been gardening for years, and she came over and helped me figure out what to do when. My backyard was too shady for things to grow well, but it was a good start for this novice.

By the next summer, we had moved to a new home. I now have a larger yard with plenty of sunshine. Someone recommended that I try “lasagna gardening,” so early in the spring we began preparing our ground. Our first garden came up so nicely, and I felt like the best gardener ever.

This year our weather has been totally different, and I tried growing plants from seed rather than transplants. Sadly, my garden doesn’t look as good at this point. Maybe I’m not the best gardener ever. (Maybe I need to read some more books!)

I’ve learned a few things about life, though…

A Gardener's Look at Life
My garden before planting

Prepare the Soil

Lasagna Gardening has taught me that soil is a whole universe, a world of microorganisms that depend on each other for health and vitality. (And that’s about the extent of my gardening knowledge. I don’t even know enough to write about this coherently.) I just know that I want to garden organically, responsibly and sustainably. The only way to do that is to be sure that the soil in which my plants are growing is healthy.

It took us quite a bit of work to get the soil ready that first year, but it was worth it. We didn’t till; rather, we spread down cardboard over the grass, added layers of peat moss and yummy bits from our compost pile, then we covered it with black plastic to “cook.” The soil needed time to work its magic, and it had to be left alone so the ecosystems below could thrive. We added worms, then just waited six weeks or more. When the plastic came off, we were rewarded with beautiful, healthy soil that was ready to grow beautiful vegetables.

In the same way, some things in life just take preparation and time. My heart is soil, God says. When God’s Word is planted in my heart, it can land along hardened paths, in rocky soil, or among thorns. It can also land on a heart that is prepared, softened, tender and receptive. May my heart always be prepared to listen to God!

Keep Things Where They Belong

What’s the difference between plants that grow in the wild and plants that grow in a garden? Order! As a gardener, I plan out where each thing goes, setting plants in rows or other designs based on what things grow well together and how much space they need. Each plant has a purpose and is loved.

In the same way, God isn’t haphazard with my life. He has a plan for my life and in fact, He’s had a purpose for me since before the creation of the world. I’m not a product of chance but an important piece of His design. May I live for His purposes, not my own!

Now I Know Why They Call It a “Green Thumb”

Normally I don’t like getting dirty or wet. I don’t like bugs. I don’t like thorns or sweat.

But each time I’m in my garden and come out with green and brown thumbs, stained from cilantro and basil and good dirt, smelling earthy and fresh, I’m pretty proud of my dirty hands. They represent a lot of hard work and some practically free organic food as a result.

In the same way, my body doesn’t look as good as it did when I was a teenager. I’ve got stretch marks and some ugly veins in my legs. My new perfume is “spit up” from my baby. But these are badges of motherhood, of the hard work and love invested in each of my children. Not every woman has been given the treasure of a child. Rather than complain, may I thank God for each badge of motherhood!

Weeds – Which are Which?

Weeds are such a pain. This year, I didn’t “cook” my compost as thoroughly as I should have. I didn’t really understand why it was important. As a result, shortly after I planted my seeds, my garden began growing other things, too. Dandelions. Crab grass. Tomatoes from last year, but in the wrong spots in my garden.

Unfortunately, I’m still learning which plants are which. Weeds and proper plants all look the same to me at first. So which ones do I pull?

By the time I could tell the difference, I discovered something else about weeds. Boy, those roots are deep! It was a lot of work to dig them out.

Weeds in my heart are the same way. They usually start out as little habits, tiny actions that look like they would be no big deal. I can always stop, I reason, until one day I discover that a monstrous habit has grown in my life and will require major effort to change. May I learn to never let the weeds get started in the first place!

A Gardener's Look at Life
My garden now

Nothing Goes to Waste

Gardening has made me look at garbage in a whole new light. I never grew up with a compost pile, so it’s a relatively new habit to throw my potato peelings into a bowl rather than the trash can.

I never knew how valuable garbage can be. Eggs shells and coffee grounds are pure gold, not worthless junk. It’s also been rewarding to evaluate product packaging in a new light, to begin to take our bags to the grocery store, and to clean with rags rather than paper towels. Learning to be a good steward of the world God created means thinking about the consequences, good and bad, of each action that I take.

All my actions have consequences. When I choose to stay up too late at night, the consequence is a higher chance of being crabby with my children tomorrow. When I choose to spend time online rather than with a child, the consequence is a shallow relationship with my teenager in a few years. May I look to the future in all my todays!

It’s Okay to Look Things Up

My style of gardening is to take my laptop computer outside with me. There I am, sitting in the grass next to my garden, using my big floppy hat to shield the screen of my laptop from the sun so that I can see pictures of the plants I growing. With the help of Google, I’ve been figuring out when to harvest squash and cabbage.

Learning new things by putting my nose in a book or computer looks a little silly to serious gardeners. But it’s okay to learn from the wise. It’s fine to ask questions and to consult with the experienced. I could try to learn it all the hard way — by trial and error — but why? May I never be too proud to learn new things!

Little Ones Just Want to Be with Me

For years, I’ve been learning a lot about parenting from the “Tomato Staking Mom” online. Now that I’m growing real tomatoes, though, I’m learning even more. Last year, I didn’t bother to stake my tomato plants. I just never got around to it. The plants got really big, and we were shoving leaves aside to grope for tomatoes down by the ground. It was fine until we got a vicious thunderstorm one afternoon and the wind tore some heavy branches off. By then, the plants were too heavy to stake without harming them.

In the same way, our children need to be close to us if they’re going to learn from us. We “tomato stake” them by keeping them with us through our days, so that we’re always available to counsel and teach them, to answer their questions, and to immediately correct any little sins that crop up.

My little ones love following me around the garden, digging in their own little spots and pulling weeds of their own. Sometimes I feel a little frustrated, knowing I could get things done so much faster and more efficiently if I sent them off to play somewhere else. May I never despise the little tomatoes God has given me to nurture!

Gardening Next Year

A few times (okay, many times) I’ve felt like giving up on this garden. Why am I even bothering? I’m embarrassed by it some days, and other days I’m frustrated at the amount of work it is. I’d rather be reading a book….

I’m sure God is going to keep teaching me new lessons in my garden. Maybe He just wants me to learn how to keep on keeping on. Maybe He just wants me to “give thanks always” for the produce section at my grocery store and the local farmer’s market. Maybe He just wants me to be amazed each year at how really wonderful He is, for making all things to grow — and doing it so effortlessly. May I trust Him to do the same in my heart!

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  1. This post is wonderful! Very well written, thank you for sharing it. I feel many of the same frustrations and joys as you do with gardening.

    This year I’ve been reminded that life isn’t perfect, so why do I think gardening will be?! LOL

  2. What an excellent post! I love hearing about your garden, & then about how you apply what you’re learning there to a particular area of your life. Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

  3. Thanks for your article. I can relate in so many ways to the gardening thing, as well as the parenting thing. There are so many trials, (I’ve been gardening for over 6 years and parenting for over 25 years still don’t have either completely right), but there are so many joys as well (grandchildren are one of them). We all have a lot to learn, and will continue on that path as long as we remain pliable and teachable, until the day we go to be with our wonderful Father, the expert gardener and parent!

  4. I love gardening but this year we were planning a move in June so I didn’t do anything. I can’t wait until next year! Have a wonderful weekend.

    BTW, I am enjoying your blog very much!

  5. Nicely written. I wanted to share something I read about hands in the dirt from another (gardening) site. The writer is speaking about how we need not to be vain about our appearance with age, but be proud in how our bodies reflect our life as lived.

    “With all my hands have touched, and loved, I want it to show. I loved my mothers hands, they showed all the work and hard times she went through for us kids , holding her hands and looking at the brown spots and worn smooth fingerprints, it was almost sacred.
    My dear first mother in law was a farm wife and lived to be 98, she never had a day off except Sunday and when the road was too muddy to get to town for Mass, she rode on the back of the tractor, standing up, six miles to town to attend. Her hands were beautiful.
    What I’m trying to say is, age is a beautiful thing. Every day you live is precious to someone. I would never be ashamed of my hands or age. “

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