Saturday, April 29, 2006

About Those Weeds!

I didn't have a lot of time for gardening today, but I did want to secure the border around what I hope will be my wildflower bed in front of my kitchen window. And I wanted to pull the thorns that stab me while I'm walking out to the vegetable garden. My neighbor wanted to borrow the weed whacker, and I asked if while she had it out she could clear a path to the garden gate for me. (She lives on our property.) She did it, and what a difference it made in my morale. It left me free to pull the thorns crowding the fence and the gate on both sides. And I was reminded again about how deeply rooted those weeds are. Some of the mustard and thorns have as much below the ground as above. They are really tough to pull out unless the ground is just right. It has to be soft enough to get the fork shovel in deep enough to pry the ground with the embedded weeds up, and then loose enough so I can bang the roots against the fence to get the clinging soil back in the ground.

If we want to get deeply embedded sin, the weeds in our hearts, out, our hearts also need to be just right. It's an effort to free even a Spirit-softened heart of embedded sins and habits. It's almost impossible to get them out of a hard heart that has not left itself open to the soft rain of God's convicting Spirit. One can try to pull them and pry them, but the tops just break off, leaving at least part of the root to spring back to life when temptations come. Weeds are easiest to pull when the ground is soft and loose and the weeds are still very small. The longer we allow them to grow, the larger they get and the deeper the root. It took little effort today to pull the tiny weeds trying to poke their heads out from mulch-covered ground. If we mulch our hearts with God's word, let the gentle rain of his Spirit fall on it, and begin ridding our hearts of sin before it can take deep root, we are more likely to cultivate pure hearts and see God more clearly.

Securing My Borders

All I was going to do today was plant one Easter lily, and water. I planted the lily quite easily in a few minutes and pulled all new weeds I could find in that bed by the pumphouse wall. And then I thought I'd better mark the borders of the spot of land on the slope where I'm planting a wildflower / herb garden. And, of course, I wanted to pull any new weeds appearing in that bit of ground. Marking the borders is important because my weed abatement man, John, will probably spray again after the rain stops for a few days. You wouldn't believe how high the old crop of thorns is growing, and now the rains have started another bunch of seedlings. John thinks that herbs and wildflowers are weeds. So I decided to put a rock border around anything out in the open he might be tempted to spray, since anything green is fair game to him.

Among today's discoveries were one sprouted borage seed I'd about given up on, some unfriendly looking worms I threw a long distance from what I was planting, and a few insects in pupa form whose identities I don't know, but I flung them away as well. I decided to let a few weeds be flowers, since their small purple blooms are attractive, the leaves are frilly, and the plants keep the soil from eroding while they crowd out other weeds. The help cover the ground while I'm waiting for seeds to sprout and grow up.

I started my work in the garden about 3PM, intending to stay long enough for my half-hour's exercise. But one thing led to another. My neighbor came out and wanted to talk, and she couldn't follow me around because she was only wearing socks. One weed pulled seemed to reveal more to pull. And I couldn't stop. I also decided to expand the border I had orginally planned to mark. Then, of course, I had to collect the rocks, which are quite plentiful, and use them to mark the bed's border. Between all the digging, weeding and rock hunting I got a bit tired. But while I was hunting rocks I came across a hearty-looking poppy plant way outside the boundaries among the thorns and mustard plants. It looked lonely and it seemed a shame to leave it there for John to spray, so I dug it up and planted it within the boundaries I had marked. What surprised me was the root. I've never much noticed poppy roots before, but this one was entirely smooth -- no little hair-like roots were shooting out of it as they do from a carrot. It was more like a golf tee. I'm hoping the poppy will live, but maybe they only can stay where originally planted. I thought I'd try because I saw poppies at the nursery in six-packs and deduced they must be transplantable. I'll find out soon. The weather was perfect for transplanting -- overcast and rather cold. I finally finished my work, watered everything in, and put away the tools. When I went in I couldn't believe it was already after six.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

What is a Weed?

What is a Weed?
Dandelion in Bloom and Reseeding, © B. Radisavljevic
Today as I was examining a flower bed at the Paso Roble house, I saw a crop of seedlings I didn’t recognize. I asked myself, as I’m sure many gardeners before me have asked, “Are these weeds or flowers?” I was without my library of gardening books that I keep at home, so there was no way to look it up. But I’ve often wondered exactly what a weed is anyway. The dictionary defines a weed as wild growth, or any plant growing in cultivated ground to the detriment of the crop or to the disfigurement of the place or an economically useless or unsightly plant. Another way to put this is that a weed is something growing where it doesn’t belong. So is the dandelion above a flower or a weed?

It’s easy to concede that thorns growing among radishes are weeds. But what if they are not growing in a garden? Since currently I have more thorns growing on my property than just about anything else, I’m beginning to feel almost like an expert on them. I have several varieties. And to be honest, one variety, the milk thistle,  is quite showy. It has gorgeous leaves. And as long I don’t need the space to grow something else, I let some of them be just for the pleasure of looking at them. The milk thistle below is growing close to an elderberry tree. 

What is a Weed?
Milk Thistle  in Bloom Beside Elderberry Tree, © B. Radisavljevic

Whether or not something is a weed depends solely upon the gardener. Take purslane (illustrated below), for example. Some people would immediately pull it as a weed. It’s not very pretty. It has succulent leaves and red stems and tiny yellow flowers. And it can take over.They say the seeds can last for years, and God plans it so they are on a time-release sprouting program. Only some sprout every year in the summer and the rest wait for a year or more. But, as you can see, I’m cultivating it. Why? Because it is quite tasty and nutritious in salads. I understand it’s also good cooked, but I haven’t tried that yet. As far as I’m concerned, purslane is a crop worth growing, even if it’s supposed to be a weed.

What is a Weed?

As I ponder the beauty of some weeds, and the edibility of others, I also think of people I meet. There are many people whom, at first glance, you believe aren’t worth cultivating. My husband began to cultivate one of these when a young man came to do some work on our property. His lifestyle was pretty loose. His appearance reminded me of the notorious Charles Manson. He seemed to be wandering aimlessly through life. 

We soon found out that though he had little education beyond high school, he was very talented with anything mechanical. He was intelligent and quite creative. And he was spiritually hungry. After several years of cultivation, he had joined the family of God, started a business, and had become like family to us. But if I’d allowed my first impressions to determine the direction the relationship would take, I would have missed the opportunity to have a close friend and help someone find the spiritual anchor he was looking for.

Since this encounter, I have learned that treating a person as a weed interferes with God’s work in that person’s life. In God’s garden, what others consider weeds may have an important part to play in his plan. It is God who determines the identity of weeds. He lets the weeds grow among the wheat until the harvest, when he separates them. Then the weeds are gathered and flung into the fire, but the wheat is gathered into the barn.

God has put each of us where he wants us to grow. As we look around us, we may be tempted to label someone else as a weed, of no real use, and maybe even detrimental to the development of others. But we need to ask ourselves if we might be called to cultivate what God may intend, with our help, to be a productive plant, adding beauty or nourishment for others. If we are not willing to do this, perhaps we will find someday we are the weeds.

God watered today.

Yesterday I was going to take some pictures of the garden as it is this year so far, but couldn't find my camera. So until it's found, I'll have to use word pictures.

I didn't make it to the garden today. God chose to do the watering. He announced it loudly first with a crash of thunder. And then the rain began to fall and I knew I would be able to stay in and work on the computer. I miss being outside, and watering gives me a chance to inspect for new growth. But God does a better job of watering than I can, so I'm always glad when he does it. Tomorrow (or, I should say, later today, since it's already early morning) the weather is supposed to get warmer, and that should make the tomatos and peppers happier. Today was cold, as well as wet. Perhaps this weekend I'll even get a chance to plant my potted Easter lilies and petunias. The petunias will be planted in Mom's yard, since she doesn't have gophers. She does have snails, but they don't destroy the whole plant like the gophers do. Oh, how those gophers love petunias!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Back to the Garden after a Long Absence

Bereavement and Exhaustion Kept Me out of the Garden

I recently returned to my neglected garden after a long period of bereavement and caregiving.  First a close friend died in spring 2003. Then my mother-in-law in spring, 2004. And last year, just before spring and before her rose garden could bloom for her, my mother died in March, 2005. Both mothers died of cancer, at home, and my garden was almost completely neglected from April, 2004 until a few weeks ago. I had no time to weed or fight the gophers, and I had no spirit left to keep the raccoons from snatching the few tomatoes that survived. By fall Mom was very sick and she was all that counted.

Back to the Garden after a Long Absence
My Neglected Garden

The garden was not cleaned up after harvest in 2004. It rained a lot over the winter, and our weed abatement man didn't spray the orchard or the garden, since I'd in the past asked him not to. I wanted to stay organic. I wanted the exercise of pulling the weeds and the satisfaction of using the young plants to nourish the earth they came from. But with Mom sick, there was no time to weed, and the thorns took over. By the time we finished burying Mom, the garden was out of control and I had no spirit to conquer the overgrown land. I had to take care of Mom's estate. I had a neglected business to catch up on. And the rush for my business starts about May and ends about November. And in the winter the rains started.

What I Found in my Neglected Garden

After the holidays, in January, I began to think garden thoughts. I found a day it wasn't raining and tried to walk out to the area where we have a deer fence and raised beds. But the path was overgrown with weeds and the gate had been ripped off its hinges by the wind. The weeds were so bad I couldn't even get in the gate. I was very discouraged. It seemed impossible to ever take the garden back. My husband got the gate fixed, but it kept raining and the weeds grew even higher. And for a couple of weeks I wasn't feeling very well.

And then spring finally came. Although the showers continued almost daily, there came a couple of days of sun in late March and I found the weeding hoe and cut a path to the garden and as far as the raised beds. Although they, too, were overgrown with tall thorns, I was able to pull them out and plant a few radishes and two pepper plants. I found that the chives had not died after all, and there were some clumps of young onions I could transplant. For three days without rain I planted seeds, discovered the oreganoI thought was dead in a pot covered with weeds, was still alive, wanting to breathe. I divided it and planted some of it in other beds nearer the kitchen. I discovered the dead artichoke in the red pot on the hill was not only alive after all the rain, but ready to be divided. I pulled all the weeds from a bed near the house and put all the artichokes there. (See top, above. Tall plant in background is what's left of a very hardy chard planted two years ago.)

I also took back a flower bed -- my only one -- from the weeds which had choked out the gazanias. Under those weeds were still gazanias, and they, too wanted to be divided. Bulbs were coming up, planted long ago. I planted some lettuce and carnation seeds, just to see what would happen. And then I advanced to the slope, very rocky, where almost nothing will grow but poppies, lupine, sage, dill and lavendar.

I'm fortunate that the lavender and sage are still there. I discovered the weed abatemant man spraying them one morning even though I've told him every year that space is not to be sprayed. He looked at me sheepishly and rinsed off the sage. I caught him in time to prevent his getting to the lavender. (I did not catch him before he sprayed the lemon balm and mint under the apple tree, but after a few weeks it is coming back. )I waited anxiously. The rinse job worked. If ever you want to grow something that will hang on, try sage. It has survived drought, neglect, gophers, deer, a weed whacker, and even Round-up (after being rinsed.) As I was pulling the weeds behind the sage, I could smell dill, so I knew it had managed to reseed from last season, but the plants were so tiny I had to be very careful not to uproot them, grabbing the tall grasses and the small thorns one by one, so as not to pull the dill babies, which were only about an inch high.

I have not yet conquered the wild weeds which still occupy most of the garden, but I have started. ( The bottom picture, above, is of the thorns almost completely covering what used to be a raised bed made from an old wading pool. ) The radishes and peas are coming up. The tomatoes and peppers and onions are in the ground and lettuce, borage, and basil seeds have been planted. I plant, I water, I weed, and I wait for God to give the growth. As I work in my garden, I meditate on what I see happening. I think about how fast the thorns grow without any effort on my part, choking out what is good. I think about how hard it is to pull out a thorn with a root six inches long. In hard ground it can't be done. But just after the rain, when the ground is still moist, most thorns will, with gentle help from a tool, pull out completely, without leaving a bit of root to grow up again. It's even harder to pull the thorns from our hearts. Thorns of selfishness, bitterness, greed, and lust can grow tall enough to choke out the thoughts inspired by the Spirit of God. It is hard to pull them out. Our hearts have to be made moist by repentance and forgiveness and a desire to have God grab the thorns by the roots and pull them out. And we need to constantly cultivate our hearts to get rid of any young weeds before they can take over.

I have discovered in my years of gardening that bare ground doesn't stay that way. If I don't plant something I want, God may plant something I don't want. As long as they aren't in my heart, I believe God loves weeds and has a purpose for them. But for now, some of them must go to make room for things I want more. And I'm hoping to plant flowers and herbs that will compete with weeds in reseeding or will just grow larger to leave less space for weeds . I have begun, and that has been the hardest step. One step leads to the next and then it doesn't seem so hard anymore. I've taken back the raised beds and a few flower pots, I've cleared a bit of slope and two beds near the house, and I've planted a small patch of wildflowers I hope will grow in view of my kitchen window. Each day without rain I will take another step in cultivating my garden. And I'm trusting God to make it grow.

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