Tuesday, 4 September 2012
Practices of Imperfection: My garden
My garden is a mess.
I Roundup’d the two most weed-ridden beds this spring, thinking I’ll just kill it, kill it all, chemical concerns be damned, I am so sick of dealing with the weeds. (“Dealing with” mostly meaning “looking at.”)
They all shriveled and died, I ripped them out for what I hoped was the last time, I planted tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers. I pushed down seeds for corn, beans, “snake gourd” (that one the boy picked out).
It looked perfect, for a little while. The soil around the plants and seeds stayed dark black, a perfect contrast around the green of the new leaves. There were a good four days there where I felt like a real gardener. But then.
First I found perfect little divots left in the soil at the exact spots I remember covering over a corn seed (thank you, squirrels). Then another critter ate all three tiny jalapeno peppers just getting their start on the plant.
Then I looked out one morning and wondered why all my black soil looked green. I’m back to looking at the weeds again, completely surrounding the onion shoots and the fledgling beans. Soon, they’ll engulf the area where the corn would have been.
Don’t even get me started on the raspberries. Delicious, yes — but relentless. I’m not sure I have any strawberries left for the raspberries’ world domination complex.
My garden is beautiful.
I cut back the raspberries to ankle-height last fall and they’re taller than me now, and peer through the leaves and there are a hundred perfect fruits, waiting to turn blushing red among all the field of green. The yellow sungold tomatoes are blooming and I even spied the first fruit, round and expectant, hiding hopefully just out of reach of tiny, furry hands.
A perfect miniature of a green pepper is just ready to drop its petals, a tiny flower that somehow magically gives birth to a mild, juicy fruit filled fertile with seeds of its own.
The cucumbers are stretching out their curly tendrils, reaching in all directions. I coax them over to the trellis, try to wrap one curl around the base, she resisting, me having faith that soon she’ll grab it on her own, in her time. She’ll soon hold on so tight that come fall, I’ll have to rip and cut her vines off the green metal ladder.
Already the garden has given me one fruit, one perfectly red strawberry that I pulled, brushed the dirt off and ate right there, still warm from the sun. It was small and misshapen and just pretty good, but I grew it in the ground and then I ate it, like a sacrament.
From my first year of gardening, the year I bought The Book and studied it until it was less about digging in the dirt and more about Getting It Right, and it all went wrong anyway, beginners’ mistakes, I realized: life is resilient. If you plant something and have an intention to see it grow, it will grow. Weeds and all, rodents and everything, my penchant for killing all the houseplants even. Especially if you plant wide and generous and varied, something will eventually peek out of the soil, out of the weeds, and at the end of the season you’ll have bounty more than you could ever use.
Against odds, it grows.
My garden is messy, imperfect. A miracle.
I look at the weeds. They’re green like the beans and cucumbers. It all blends together in an explosion of life and chlorophyll and it’s like praise, the way they turn their faces to the sun. They grow imperfectly, but what they have, they give generously.
As I parent, as I write, as I wife and manage and work, I pray that in my messy imperfection I can still give something good, something that will sustain and grow each thing I love in their turn. Looking back, it’ll be a miracle anything grew at all, but then I’ll see — it wasn’t just me.
In my garden, it takes the sun and rain God and really, everything else does all the work. It’s audacious to even think I’m growing anything at all out there. I can tend and guard and check the growth, but I’m no more growing the food, growing the children, creating the art from scratch, than I am making the sun shine or making my heart beat.
My garden is not just mine.
The lilies of the valley don’t worry, and they also don’t need my help. When I can see that it’s not all up to me, that is pure grace and I give thanks.
The lillies have everything they need, and I pray the Giver of Lights would give me everything I need, too. For my garden, to balance my imperfection, to help me see my limitations as a gift so I can open my empty hands to receive more of Him.
And what I have, I’ll give.