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Lessons from the garden for uncertain times

Gardening connects me to the Creator God as a communion service connects me to Christ.

Lessons from  the garden for uncertain times

Gardening for me is a source of joy. It renews my hope in the faithfulness of our Creator God. Annual rituals from planting to harvest allow me to see, touch and taste the goodness and beauty of God. Gardening connects me to the Creator God as a communion service connects me to Christ.

The annual rhythm starts in February with a search through the William Dam seed catalogue. This year I ordered seeds for some new flowers and vegetables, along with the staples. I had high expectations for bounty and beauty after a dark winter in body and soul. 

Not this year. A perfect storm of adverse circumstances taught me different lessons. Persistent wet, cool weather affected germination. Instead of enjoying the early burst of green growth I was replanting – three times for some heat-sensitive seeds. Soil that I accepted as a gift turned out to be heavy clay. Judging by the stunted growth I now wonder what else was embedded in that soil.

Meanwhile, infestations of bugs and worms that I have never seen before eroded my confidence in organic methods. Something ate my marigolds instead of the marigolds scaring away the bugs. The temptation to reach for the pesticides was resisted only with the hope that July would be better. Alas, it was not to be. 

When the beans and kale are not doing well in July, the self-confidence of a gardener with Dutch genes takes a hit. News that other gardeners were also struggling did not lift my spirits. As the season went on, I commiserated with the farmers who depend on the weather and other factors beyond their control. I do not like it, but I can afford to turn to the Farm Boy store if my produce fails. 

Horticultural therapy
There are a few bright spots. The garlic scapes were delicious this year! The hardy, well-watered perennial flowers drew attention to patches of bright colours that were bigger than usual – away from the holes in the leaves of my vegetables. 

Overall, my take-aways this year are more on the Calvinist side. First the guilt. I am conscious that I am paying this year for letting my own soil run down. So I’ll be looking for lots of mushroom compost to complement my own compost. I am learning persistence as I tend to sick plants for survival, not flourishing, and reap small fruits. Then there are the squirrels and chipmunks. I can’t find forgiveness for the way they stole my zucchini and tomatoes last year. I want revenge – or at least protection. My grandson reminds me that they need food too, and suggests I bribe them with something they like better than zucchini – strawberries!  Does the ethic of sharing creation, an ethic I loudly proclaim, apply to squirrels in my garden? 

By the end of August I am already thinking about next year and a second chance – more like a 42nd chance at my age. Or is someone telling me to hang up the hoe – and join a co-op that supports local vegetable farmers? 

Maybe the lessons I am learning this year are the mental muscles I need to strengthen for the current season of life as well. Yes, uncertain weather motivates more advocacy for climate change policies. It goes beyond that. The social weather also seems more uncertain, with heavy clouds of tension that hamper the growth of healthy communities – and occasionally drop hailstorms of hatred. The cultural soil in North America needs more compost to foster healthy development. And it will take trust in the God of gardens to be optimistic about our future.  

About the Author
Lessons from  the garden for uncertain times

KATHY VANDERGRIFT, COLUMNIST

Kathy Vandergrift (kathyvandergrift@rogers.com), a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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