On Gardens and Generosity

I’ve always been enchanted with gardening, and I can remember happy moments out with the house before the rest of my family was awake when I was just a kid living in Tennessee. I can remember my crop of sweet banana peppers and deep purple beans, sneaking a sun-warmed tomato from Mom’s buses, and gathering a bouquet of day lilies and sweet peas from hill by the alley. I always thought it’d be something I’d enjoy, but I never got serious about it until college, when for two years I had the privilege of living with a professor and his wife on two acres of immaculate, British-style garden and lawn. They had it all, and they worked full time for it. I helped them, and I learned to love the work and the sweat and the bug-bites and scrubbing it all out from under your fingernails at the end. Now I’m dipping my toes in myself and have enjoyed even more than I expected the process of creating a beautiful space on my porch and in the raised bed I’ve cultivated in our community courtyard.

One of the main reasons I love gardening so much is the spiritual aspect of it, and the things I’ve learned during the hours of pulling weeds, mowing grass, turning soil, watering faithfully before the sun gets hot. As I grew to appreciate the disciplines, the slow and steady labor, the patience and faithfulness and consistency required, the importance of weeding out what shouldn’t be growing and nurturing what should, I realized how dearly I wanted my children to grow up in a garden, learning the same lessons and pondering the analogies to our own lives. I am so thankful to be at the beginning of this journey and seeing it become a reality as Jacob “helps,” burying his chubby little paws in the irresistible dirt, splashing in the watering can, even learning to drag the house around. It’s not just that I want him to know where his food really comes from and how good it can taste, I want him to stop and think about how we cultivate ourselves, too, and what happens with a weed in your heart when you don’t get to the root but just tear off the leaves.

Another spiritual lesson caught my attention this afternoon while I was sitting in church. There is an elderly couple that brings an exuberant bouquet of fresh cut flowers to grace the front of the sanctuary every Sunday, from their own garden. I am always amazed at just how lovely and dramatic it is – larger than life. Clearly they spare no expense. I thought of the disappointing peas I harvested too late this week and how I’d not availed myself of that blessing when it was the right moment, and rather than growing better, it lost its value. There is a truth about basil pesto: the more you make, the more you’ll have to look forward to. The plant thrives on giving itself. I’ve been smitten by perennial wildflowers lately and have spent my free moments perusing books from the library, determined to form a plan to leave some of that beauty behind when I leave this property. That was the composition of the bouquet at church this Sunday, all lilies, and more of them than you’d believe. It occurred to me that to leave them be instead of choosing to bring them to share wouldn’t give you an advantage. They are there for the having, and they’re not there for long. I thought of taking some cuttings from the hydrangea across the yard for my table at the beginning of this week, but my procrastination was rewarded by ongoing drought and a shriveled plant. I missed my chance.

That burst of color at the front of the church got me thinking about generosity. Generosity is a temporal thing. It is the act of giving what we have, now, instead of saving it for later. Generosity happens when we don’t think about what it might be nice to have then, it thinks about what it possesses now and how it can be enjoyed to its fullest potential. Generosity might wear you out, but you do it. It might empty you, but you give it. Because right now you are not worn and you are not empty, and later there will be later’s strength and resources to offer up. Saving today’s for tomorrow is a waste. Tomorrow you will have Wednesday Grace.