Thursday, August 15, 2013

Everyday Beauty

Despite my intellectual attraction to farming, it may be a good thing I don't live off the land. By mid-July, I struggle to maintain my enthusiasm for the garden. It hasn't even been hot this year, by North Carolina standards, but mosquitoes keep me indoors far more than I'd like. So I confess - I've slipped in my resolution to take one good backyard photograph daily. Still, here's 10 of my favorite photos from the last month.

Chocolate pepper, just starting to ripen

Coreopsis after the rain

A coneflower rescued from the bunny, now potted
and in the recovery ward on the front porch

Bees adore butterfly weed (and pretty much everything else
in the butterfly garden). 

One of the last brandywine pink heirloom tomatoes,
calling for mozzarella.

Finally -  a butterfly (black swallowtail) appeared in the butterfly garden!

My new orchid


Zinnia and friend in the late afternoon sun.

Common buckeye butterfly - a first sighting

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gardening: Love Made Visible

Gardening is “making love visible.” I had never thought of it that way before, but when I read that quote recently in an essay on faith, food and gardening, it struck me in my soul.

Of course. That’s what has drawn me into the garden these past 12 years, digging, weeding, planting. But mostly what I have been doing is marveling at small miracles.

In the garden, I only play a small supporting role in making love visible. God is the lead actor. I think I knew that at some deep level even before I was led back to my faith, in the years when I could not even bring myself to say the word “God.” In perhaps my second year as a gardener, I noticed an unusual plant growing and resisted the urge to pull it. By midsummer it was a six-foot tall datura with blooms of angelic white trumpets, perfectly positioned at the back of my new perennial bed.

Since then I have always liked better the plants that seed themselves in unexpected places, almost always looking more beautiful than where I would have chosen to plant them. Each day these past weeks I look out my office window at a courtyard where a rainbow of zinnias seeded themselves in the gravel. Tiger swallowtail butterflies and other smaller butterflies I do not know dance there in the afternoon sun.

The landscapers used to poison this gravel with herbicides. Have they not yet found the zinnias? I prefer to think that even the landscape crew knows how to respond to graced beauty.

Before I gardened, in the rare times I attended church, I could not understand most of the Biblical parables. I would quickly become irritated at agricultural references from ancient times that seemed to me to have no relevance to life today. I was cut off from the source of life, on many levels.

But now, loving the miracle of the seed, how beautiful it is to read the following passage:

“This is how it is with kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” (Mark 4: 26-28)

God is acting in the world now, performing small miracles, if only we have eyes to see. We don’t have to labor that hard. In fact, if we work too hard, if we try too hard to control and manicure the garden, we risk blighting the miracles.

On my porch, a tropical sword fern now is in its second life. It appeared dead between January and June, as I expected because I left it outside over the winter. Yet one day after a period of heavy rains, I noticed small green fronds lifting out of the soil. I don’t know how many times I thought of dumping the pot in the compost, yet something in me refrained.

When we try to control too much in the garden, we end up as agents of death. I think of all the pesticides sprayed by gardeners trying to protect their favorite plants from harm that instead disrupt the ecosystem. Bees are dying everywhere; monarch butterflies have been decimated. Yes, the causes are multiple and complex, but pesticides are a big part of the puzzle.

One beauty of gardening, however, is it is nearly impossible to dwell on big unsolvable problems while digging in the soil. All that matters is the hole to be dug, the weed to pull, the vegetable to harvest, the flower to admire, the bird to enjoy. And the sun shines, and the rain comes, or doesn’t come. The seasons pass. Plants leaf out, flower, set seed, go dormant. Some thrive. Most grow slowly. A few die. The cycle continues. And almost all of it happens quietly, out of sight, untoiled for.

Yes, gardening teaches faith.