I’ve been thinking a lot about gardening lately. Maybe it’s because I miss watching HGTV–a ritual I haven’t kept since coming to college. Maybe it’s the love I’ve had for The Secret Garden since elementary school. Or maybe it’s memories of my grandpa, affectionately known as “Pal,” who would take me in the emerald wagon across the mossy backyard to his garden–a jungle of pumpkins, peonies and the occasional strawberry patch.
Gardens are where I, like C.S. Lewis, believe I first understood beauty. I remember Pal lifting a flat of seedlings from the wagon seat across from me and setting it on the grass. I’d hop out of the wagon and teeter to my feet, scanning the horizon for the neighbor’s horses.
When no horses could be found, I’d turn back to Pal and he’d scoop out one of the seedlings and place it in my hands. My fingers would run over the rich dirt and across the hairlike roots.
“Katherine,” Pal would say, “press your fingers into the dirt and knead it a little, then set it in this hole.” I’d squish my fingers into the dirt and feel some edge its way under my fingernails. Squirming, I’d the seedling in the little hole Pal dug with a shovel.
“Now push the soil around the seedling,” Pal would continue, “and dig a moat around the outside. The plant will get thirsty and the moat will help it drink.”
Suddenly the seedling became a castle and I didn’t mind the dirt under my fingernails as much. I dug out the moat and grabbed the red watering can, dousing the “castle” in a steady shower.
Pal and I planted rows of those seedlings year-after-year. After the seedlings were planted, We’d walk around the rest of the garden where I’d look for treasures: clovers, pears and old seashells,, left behind from a box by the shed years before.
At the sight of the first spider, I’d rush inside and Pal would follow. We’d eat apple pie with French vanilla ice cream or on really special occassions, Grandma Mamie’s apple crisp.
Afterward, I’d return home, to Texas or to Indianapolis–my two childhood homes. In the fall, I’d return to the little garden patch. Some years, my little garden patch would have a bountiful harvest: Roma tomatoes and green beans, varieties of squash and pumpkins and sometimes, blueberries. On those years, we’d cook up all the food that was grown and have a feast.
Other years, there’d be a dry summer. The blueberries grew small and bitter. The tomatoes wouldn’t ripen. The pumpkins were gnawed at by bugs and the squash grew small. On those years, we had less of a feast, but knew certain plants in the garden would grow stronger another year.
The blueberries were perennial and would grow again each year without having to be replanted. While some years they might’ve grown small and bitter, other years they grew plump and sweet. Over time, the roots of the blueberry bushes grew deep and despite one year’s harvest, the roots would still grow.
This weekend, as I sat in the grass and cool April wind, surrounded by fields in the Ohio countryside, I thought again of the little garden. Then I thought over the past year. This year has been one of self actualization. Part of that was a few friends introducing me to the Enneagram test (take it if you haven’t already–woah, so great). The other half was the harsh unearthing of my shadow side before my own eyes.
I’d had some sort of pride built up surrounding my personality and relationships. I told myself that I was somehow incapable of inflicting deep hurt on another person, let alone my friends. I considered myself nice overall–but nice isn’t kind.
This year, if anything, has shown me how unkind I can be and the effect of my unkindness on those closest to me. After all, we seem nice enough to those who don’t know our fears or see our tears behind closed doors. Yet those who stay by our sides through the pain and tears often receive our worst selves.
I’ve also felt tired this year, the sort of tired that lingers and never quite goes away.
I’ve felt grief as I experienced and witnessed friends go through seemingly insurmountable pain a few doors down and hundreds of miles away.
I’ve felt fear for outcomes and restlessness for certainty.
I’ve felt frustrated and discouraged for my reactions toward situations and what they could have been.
I’m approaching the end of the year and in many ways, I feel like the little girl who returned to her garden in the fall and found only weeds, dust and dry, brittle plants.
Yet as I continue to lean into this year, I see that this season, this harvest, was not fruitless. My life is like a perennial. This year is like that dry plant. It’s rough and harsh and no fresh growth seems to sprout and flourish and that’s true, above the surface. But if I were to dig deep into my heart, I see perennial roots which have kept growing all along, stronger each year despite what emerges above ground.
Deep in that underground space, there is rich soil and nutrients, there is refreshment and growth. Year after year, those roots grow deeper, uninhibited by the growth or decay above ground.
When I see this season come to a close, I see the withering leaves of stress, failure, tiredness and brokenness but I am beginning to see the roots of learning, of faith and of hope that plunge deep and impenetrable. I see the gardener’s heart of God which cultivates, even in the dark places.
The beginning of this new season seems to be sprouting life above ground as well as below ground. I’m beginning to rejoice again and bask in deep joy. I’m feeling the light and life of purposeful growth that’s ongoing and just beginning to become visible.
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."
– Colossians 2:7-8