By Harmony Harkema
I planted my first garden this year. It’s just a tiny plot, a four-foot-by-four-foot raised bed. There’s a tomato plant in the center, surrounded by peppers, summer squash, a watermelon (which I pray won’t blossom until the vine gets long enough that it extends past the bed), a green bean plant, and a cucumber. There’s an herb in each corner, bright flowers on three sides, and a row of lettuce and spinach sown along the fourth. It’s packed full, this little oasis of land.
My husband built the frame for me, lining the bottom with pieces of cardboard to keep the grass and weeds out, and I lovingly emptied five big bags of organic garden soil into it, smoothing it all out with my daughter’s new child-size shovel. I water it faithfully every evening, the way my mom taught me. You don’t water a garden in midday or the sun reflecting on the water droplets can scorch the plants, much like a child at the swimming pool whose sunscreen has worn off.
Daily, I’m amazed at the progress of my little plot of earth. In under three weeks, my tomato has more than quadrupled in height, reaching the top of its little cage and bursting with yellow blossoms. Tiny lettuce leaves, sown directly from seeds I tenderly pushed into that fresh soil on planting day, have popped up along one side and double in circumference every few days. The brilliant petunias and zinnias, and my daughter’s choice of bright yellow French marigolds, shed their blossoms and send forth new ones almost daily in a steady rhythm. I can’t quite get my mind wrapped around how fast it all happens.
My five-year-old, on the other hand, asks me daily why it’s taking so long for anything edible to appear. Patiently, I walk her through the growing process, pointing out the blossoms that will eventually be replaced by vegetables, trying to explain that cultivating life takes time and care.
Cultivating life takes time and care.
When I say these words, I inadvertently remind myself that life began in a garden.
It’s easy to forget, in our culture of near-instant gratification, that cultivating life takes time and care. We establish instant “friendships” on Facebook, make purchases online that show up on our doorstep in a day or two, text each other across continents, download books and music in twenty seconds, and pick up meals “made fresh” in under five minutes from drive-thru windows. I marveled yesterday at the fact that the new Beauty and the Beast film is already releasing on DVD; it used to take months for a movie to be available for purchase. And when my husband was deployed for four months for his job this winter, I acquired a new appreciation for the tenacity of the women left behind during wartime in generations past who had to wait for snail mail communication from their men, since we were able to Skype with him every day. So much happens quickly for us.
But you can’t hurry a garden much. You can add nitrogen beads to the soil, layer on compost, create as rich an environment for growth as possible, but you can’t simply make a red, vine-ripened tomato appear overnight.
It’s a good relationship reminder. A good soul reminder. A good marriage and parenting reminder. Cultivating life takes time and care.
We moved into our house, a rental in which we’re about to spend our third summer, in early December. The front flower bed was a riot of cut-back shrubs from what I could tell, their bare branches sticking up like so much kindling. But then, in early April, the smallest bunch of twigs sent forth green shoots, which over the week became a massive, abundant, leafy green pom-pom. A few weeks later, peony buds appeared, at least fifty of them. When they opened, I filled the house with their sweetly scented pink blossoms.
That fall, I left the bush alone, not realizing that if I wanted the same results the next spring, I needed to deadhead the bush and cut back the branches, the way someone had done before we moved in. When April rolled around again, only a handful of buds appeared. I took note, and last fall, I cut back the bush. This spring, there were even fewer buds. I don’t know what I did wrong–perhaps I waited too long to cut it back, or perhaps it’s time to add some fertilizer to that flower bed–but the peony bush, too, is a reminder that cultivating life takes time and care. We must pay attention. We must nurture.
Indeed, we are nurtured by our Creator over the course of a lifetime. There are seasons when we bloom abundantly and seasons when we need to be cut back to allow for new growth. There are seasons when we produce little, because we are in need of sustenance and perhaps don’t recognize it right away. We Christians like to talk about our “walk” with the Lord, about “spiritual deserts” and verdant valleys, these “seasons” we go through. But do we look around and see that we, too, are gardeners?
Our God, cultivator of the first garden, knows the rhythms of life, and he’s willing to show us how, as he simultaneously sows and waters and plucks weeds in us. Remarkable, isn’t it?
What are you doing to cultivate life in your own garden of relationships? Are you paying attention? Are you being patient? Are you watering faithfully? Are you marveling at what’s happening before your eyes?
Harmony Harkema has loved the written word for as long as she can remember. A former English teacher turned editor, she has spent the past seven years in the publishing industry. A novelist and blogger in the fringe hours of her working mom life, Harmony also has a heart for leading and coaching aspiring writers. Harmony lives in Memphis with her car-loving husband and two small daughters. She blogs at harmonyharkema.com.
Photograph © Bethany Beams, used with permission