Thriving! In fact, the volunteer cantaloupes and pumpkins look healthier, are sturdier, and exude greens deeper and fuller than the cantaloupes and pumpkins I deliberately planted. As I strive to grow organically, none of the plants, neither compartmentalized nor non-compartmentalized, have received any applications of fertilizer other than compost or chicken manure. But all are blessed under God’s loving hand of provision.
As I took in this revelation I thought about the parable of the prodigal son, how God blessed not only the son who remained faithful to his father but the one who sowed his wild oats for a season and returned home. Aren’t we all prodigal sons and reckless daughters? Haven’t we all strayed from God’s path and precepts to one degree or another, yet He continues to pour out His mercy on us regardless of the soil we’ve chosen to root ourselves in?
As I sat on the weatherproof couch I listened closer to the garden’s meaning, breathing in the perennials–the artichokes we planted from seed three years ago and which started yielding their oversized thistle flowers last season. And the asparagus. Ah, the asparagus! When it comes to perseverance in the plant kingdom, I rank asparagus right up there with Bermuda grass and henbit. We planted five asparagus root balls six years ago on a whim–Mary and I saw them at Lowes one late winter day and decided, “What the heck?” We dug holes in the sticky black gumbo, dumped them in, smeared the clay back over the root balls looking strangely like dried octopi, and hoped for the best. Soon tiny sprouts no larger than the diameter of a pencil poked their round noses above the soil. I think we harvested three or four sprigs that year. It was pitiful.
My mother-in-law had informed me that asparagus patches can take up to five years to begin yielding appreciable amounts of stalks, so in my discouragement I did what every impatient gardener does: I plowed the patch under. Too bad, so sad.
Next spring I re-plowed the garden to prepare it for that year’s planting, and as I worked the soil I noticed something astonishing: asparagus shoots were sprouting from the same five root balls in the same five holes we had planted the previous year. Two eighteen-inch-deep cultivations hadn’t disturbed them in the least. I figured anything that insistent deserved to be left alone and I haven’t touched them since, other than to harvest sprigs in the early spring. Over the years the asparagus has produced more abundantly, and the sprigs are now as thick as my thumb, the fronds as tall as I am. It’s a veritable jungle in our asparagus patch, a testament to persistence and God’s grace.
I took another sip of wine and squinted at the yellowed, withered, stunted cantaloupes and crook-necked squash poking out of the patch of garden where I used chicken manure for the first time. Apparently I didn’t allow the chicken droppings to mellow long enough, resulting in soil nitrogen levels exceeding the plants’ tolerance. Looking at those stunted cantaloupe and yellow squash seedlings reminded me of something both silly and serious: when we wallow in negativity, when we participate in gossip, when we argue for the sake of winning rather than compromising, when we keep our feet planted in the poop life throws at us, we end up withered, yellowed, and stunted spiritually, if not, eventually, physically.
“A garden isn’t meant to be useful. It’s for joy,” said Rumer Godden. But what does a garden really do? It’s hard work, but, like writing, it’s in my blood and I do it because it’s not only enjoyable, but because it’s cleansing. Like the Beloved after the fight with his new wife in the Song of Solomon, he went to the garden to cool down, because a garden heals, a garden lifts up, a garden is hope in physical form, faith demonstrated, love revealed. A garden demonstrates the amazing reverse of decay and the persistence of life, entropy’s counter-punch. It shows the magic of compost, of table scraps turned into soil, of the total interdependence of plants and insects and humans. Of God’s provision.
I set my now-empty wine glass on the settee pillow and turned my thoughts toward my life and to the responsibilities and the opportunities with which God has entrusted me. I sat quietly, patiently as the garden silently grew under the North Texas sun, the West Texas wind, and God’s hand of grace. There’s nothing fast about a garden. I listened to the birds, felt the warmth of the wind on my skin, absorbed the sun, rested…and appreciated….
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and
For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!
– Rudyard Kipling, The Glory of the Garden
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes