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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