David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Gardening”

Life Began in a Garden (2014-06-04 Daily) [2 of 2]

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

     pray

For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!

– Rudyard Kipling, The Glory of the Garden

 

-THE END-

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

Life Began in a Garden (2014-05-30 Daily) [1 of 2]

LIFE BEGAN IN A GARDEN

by

David C. Hughes

 

If you want to be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden.

-Chinese Proverb

 

From the top of the door frame leading to our back yard hangs a wind chime.  Inside the house.  What a wind chime is doing inside the house only Mary knows, but it’s a beautiful work of art.  A cross sporting a maroon heart, an orange button, and a hand-painted bumblebee dangles from a shiny silver “S” shaped hook.  Below the cross hangs a flowery sky-blue rectangular plaque attached with two rusty coils.  “Life began in a Garden,” the small plaque proclaims.

“God Almighty first planted a garden,” wrote Frances Bacon, “and indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.  It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man, without which buildings and palaces are but gross handiworks.”  Life began in a Garden and He placed Adam and Eve there to tend it to the greatest refreshment of their spirits and their souls.  In the Garden they communed with God, walked with God, spoke with God, and enjoyed His presence both directly and within the realm of His creation.

After the Fall, God allowed the memory of the Garden to remain within the deepest recesses of human experience.  We now spend a good part of our lives building careers, establishing relationships, and piling up useless stuff while erecting barriers and taking up residence in self-made prisons of ignorance and self-focus.  But when we step inside the gates of a garden, thrust our fingers deep into the dirt, lift the soil and breathe deeply of that musky, earthy, messy matrix of life, we are transported back to the foundation of time.

Cultivating a garden is the antithesis of modern existence, one in which I willingly partake, a catharsis I’ve embraced since I can remember.  My parents raised me up alongside the yearly garden; as the tomato plants grew, so did I.  I remember my dad hand-digging the 20-by-40 foot plot with nothing but a pointed shovel, a pair of work gloves, and lots of grunting and sweating.  Even now, when I turn over the sticky black North Texas clay with my strong and steady Craftsman rototiller, I am once again connected through time and circumstance to those simple days of my ancestors’ necessity.  But I do it not out of the necessity for physical sustenance but rather out of the need for spiritual nourishment.  I garden because I can’t not garden.

Gardening slows me down.  Practically nothing happens fast in a garden and between growing seasons.  The seasons roll by, driven by the relentless precession of a wobbling earth, opening the window to planting and closing the window after harvest.  The moment I drop a seed in the ground, slow-motion unfolds right before my eyes.  It may take a week for those seeds to germinate, two or three months to harvest, eight months to die at the touch of subfreezing temperatures.  It’s all in God’s timing.  A garden demonstrates God’s urging to be still and know that He is God.  It takes away my control because once the seeds are in the ground, there’s nothing I can do to make them grow except to apply the water, pray, and wait.  A garden is counter-cultural, it’s a throwback to slower times, to a time of faith, of reliance, of worship.

From the first cultivation in late February to first frost in late October my garden grows.  Millimeter-by-millimeter the okra and the zucchini and the green beans thrust their heads above the ground, reaching for the sky.  Millimeter-by-millimeter the pumpkins spread their leaves and begin to crawl.  Millimeter-by-millimeter the peas climb their chicken wire trellises and open their ivory blossoms to the steadfast search of honey bees.  Only the asparagus runs counter to the rest of the garden, shooting straight up from the ground at the breakneck speed of seven inches a day, scrambling toward the sun in an attempt to spread their wispy leaves before I come along with my pocket knife and assimilate their lives into mine.  Their season is very short.

“Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination,” wrote Alice Morse Earle in Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden.  But it’s more than an exercise in imagination; it’s a workout of sensations. I breathe deeply the scent of rotting mulch, the prickle of disturbed tomato leaves, the sting of freshly-harvested jalapenos.  I squish the damp clay between bare fingers.  The two-inch layer of mulch yields to my sandaled feet after three days of rain has softened the earth, giving me hope that this growing season might provide enough natural moisture to keep the plants hardy and oh so dark green.  Verdant leaves shiver as a south breeze tickles the asparagus, the wispy fronds hissing back like petulant children going through growing pains.  Serves them right.  Sunlight excites the deep greens and plays across the oversized pumpkin blossoms waving their yellow orange greetings at every honeybee and red wasp flying by.  I snap off a pea pod and devour it, savoring the earthy sweetness and thanking God for the bounty surrounding me, doing what it’s supposed to do while I struggle to do what I’m supposed to do.

One afternoon I dropped my world-weary body onto the small settee Mary placed beside the redbud next to the garden.  I sighed, lifted my wine glass, and sipped the now-warm sauvignon blanc.  The wine flowed over my taste buds, its subtle citrus tones emboldened by the dry air rushing out of the southwest.  I looked at the garden, I mean, really looked at the garden, and here’s what God revealed to me.

We grow a traditional garden, nice neat rows planted side-by-side with peas, onions, green beans, lettuce and okra.  Pumpkins, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and zucchini reside in their own plots, spaced far enough apart to allow these larger, vinier plants to spread out without rubbing tendrils with their neighbors.  These are the “compartmentalized” fruits and vegetables.

Springing up all over the garden are the volunteers, plants we didn’t sow by hand but rather sprouted from seeds discarded in the compost box or plowed under during the fall cultivation.  This vegetation pops up in the dirt patches, pushes up through the mulch, grows outside the nice, neat boundaries we’ve set up for the other plants.  In other words, these are the wild ones, the unruly ones, the free spirits of the plant kingdom.  These are the “non-compartmentalized” fruits and vegetables.

And all are thriving.

(continued)

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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