Posted in Moments of grace

Let’s do a little gardening

“I need some help planting these flowers.”

That’s all it takes. That’s all my five-year old grandson needs to hear, and he’s all in.

Our first project involved a couple of Blue Daze plants which always do great in our garden soil. He wanted to plant blue flowers, which aren’t that common. Even these are a bit on the purple side, which he pointed out to me. He carried the two quart containers out back, while I brought the shovel, some branch trimmers (I knew we’d encounter lots of roots at the base of the pine trees), and a watering can.

He dug the holes as I lopped off some uncooperative roots. I showed him how to take the plant from the pot and shake out the roots a little bit and place the plant in its new home. He filled in the dirt and started to work on the second hole. After we were done, he gave both plants a nice long drink in their new home. Each time he comes over the house, I always remind him to water his flowers.

Our second project involved part of an old whiskey barrel my wife wanted in the corner of the patio, a few bags of potting soil and a twelve-pack of impatiens with orange flowers. The impatiens were a variety I hadn’t seen before, suitable for both shade or sun (according to the label.). I found a few old landscape bricks to take up space in the barrel, and then added the soil. Now the fun part. I pulled back a small hole with my trowel as he stuck each plant in it’s place and covered up the roots with dirt. Once again, we treated our new guests to a tall cool drink.

One of my go to places to relax or destress is the garden. Soil, plants and water are cheap therapy when you’ve got a lot of stuff on your mind. The sun, the breeze and a little dirt under the fingernails always take my mind off my worries.

I think my dad taught me most of what I know about gardening. My dad always had amazing gardens. Front yard beds full of crocuses, tulips and hyacinth in the spring were followed by azaleas and roses as summer approached. Dad’s beds were immaculate, too. No weeds, cultivated soil and gorgeous blooms were the rule in front of our house. The vegetable gardens were out back. Lettuce and spinach first, followed by peas and beans, and then carrots, kohlrabi, peppers and bushels of tomatoes by the end of the summer. His carefully composted rows of vegetables produced much of what we saw on the table throughout the year. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this help keep our family fed during my growing up years.

The gardening gene must be dominant. When we arrived at our first call in Coventry, CT, we planted a garden. And what a garden! Our parsonage was on the four acres next to the church’s four acres. I borrowed a rototiller and broke up a 20′ x 40′ area of the backyard for our garden. If someone tells you that New England soil is rocky, they are understating the conditions. I think we found more rocks that soil! Forget the spade. You need a spading fork. We got it done and planted corn, sunflowers, several varieties of beans (including some that were purple!), peas, carrots, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and melons. There were also some asparagus beds in place.

My harvests had mixed results. We got some sweet corn, but many ears didn’t properly develop. Some kind of bug ate a lot of the sunflower seeds. The cantaloupe never got bigger than a softball. We had lots and lots of peas and beans, though. Do you know that purple beans will turn green when you boil them? I’d say our attempts were average. We ate a lot of peas right off the vine and had plenty of beans.

We had a garden at our second call in Iowa. Our backyard in West Des Moines had rhubarb. It didn’t matter how cold the winter or how hot and dry the summer, we had huge rhubarb plants. No gardening talent needed there. My wife made some amazing rhubarb and rhubarb-strawberry pies. The soil produced some amazing zucchini, too. We made lots and lots and lots of zucchini bread. Our best gardening project, though, were strawberries. I bought a whole bunch of plants for our backyard, carefully mulching each one. In year two, we began to see some nice strawberries begin to form. That’s exactly when I got the call to Florida. We never got to see how that harvest looked.

Florida gardening? Totally different than up north. After much trial and error, my philosophy is this: plant native and plant what grows in your yard. My soil is crazy sandy, the growing seasons are weird, and plants take over your yard when you aren’t watching. Winter freezes are few and far between. Hurricanes blow in weeds you never expected to find. Plants you gave up on sometimes grow back. Plants that look great in the yard across the street die in mine. Go figure.

When I put my hands in the dirt, I leave something behind and I take something with me. Along with seeds, fertilizer and water, the garden always seems to have room for worries and frustrations. It return it gives peace and serenity along with blossoms and fruit.

Thus, the allure of a shovel, soil and a watering can endures. I can still care for our little piece of dirt, planting and watering and watching things grow. I can still eat the fruits of our labor, share them with others and enjoy the colors of creation.Maybe that’s why gardening is so appealing and amazing. It brings me close to the Creator, reminds me of His creation, and gives me a chance to share that with a new generation. When I’m close to Him, I discover a peace that surpasses my understanding.

Posted in garden

And suddenly…

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About six months ago, a friend gave me about 18 bromeliads from his yard. They propagate well in Florida, so he had to thin out his beds. I planted them in a few different places around my yard. They took root and began to propagate, but all I got was greenery. Until today, when all of a sudden one caught my eye as I passed by with the lawnmower. I didn’t know what to expect. They’re beautiful!

Posted in Life

Getting His hands dirty

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This morning I began another cover-to-cover reading of the Bible. I choose a different translation to read through each time and this time, I’m reading the Common English Bible copyright 2011. The subtitle is “a fresh translation to touch the heart and mind.” I’m certainly not an expert on Bible translations, and I’m sure that this one, like all, has its shortcomings. Like many contemporary translations, I believe it strives to find a balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought approaches to translation. I work with the English Standard Version each week for sermon preparation and worship, so we’ll see how it goes.

The verses that caught my attention early this morning were Genesis 2:7-8, “the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed.” A long time ago in a place far away, God was getting his hands dirty, creating the first man and planting the first garden.

I checked the Hebrew word and indeed, the is plant, which means God and I have something in common. I have planted gardens. In fact, I really enjoy gardening. I suppose I got that from my father, who until recently had all kinds of gardens and grew some amazing roses. Now I find myself wondering if my heavenly Father enjoys gardening. Just imagine the Almighty, Eternal God, the Creator Himself, on his knees, digging a hole, mixing in some fertilizer, and adding a plant to His garden.

As I’ve written about in a previous post, there is something very relaxing about working in the garden. Now I know it’s really a spiritual experience!

Posted in Grace, Ministry

My therapy?

A chore recently turned into therapy.

Yard work was until yesterday a necessary chore, just part of being a homeowner. But yesterday, as I raked up bags and bags of dead grass from our lawn, I realized I had stumbled across something therapeutic.

The last week or so has been rough. After a busy weekend hosting our friend Lophane from Haiti, all h*** broke loose. My friend Bud found his mom dead in her apartment. A couple of elderly members were admitted to the hospital in really bad shape. And another, David, was facing major surgery. I’ve dealt with all of these kinds of events before, but this time they just seemed to pile up in a way that left me feeling drained.

Monday morning found me in a pretty bad mood, as was pointed out to me by my neighbor. I came home early that day and to tackle the front yard raking and within half an hour, found myself feeling much better. The beautiful afternoon (we live in Florida, so some February days are indeed beautiful!), the rhythm of raking and the sense of accomplishment made me feel relaxed, refreshed and renewed.

Well, I thought, if this task eases the stresses of ministry, then I’m going to be out here everyday, doing something in the yard. If this helps me unwind, then I’ll be out in the yard every day if I can. Today I stopped and bought some flowers to replace everything that died in last winter’s freeze. I didn’t have a lot of time; just enough to get them all in pots and watered.

I don’t know if it’s being outdoors, or getting my hands dirty, or just focusing on something besides ministry, but I like it and I’ll be out there again tomorrow.