Trust the Gardener

“My roses seemed oblivious to the drama.”

I made that observation in my last post (Keep Calm and Carry On) while describing my unfortunate encounter with fungi in the garden this summer.

Today, while continuing my work to treat the problem, I also continued to wonder why the roses were blooming so beautifully despite the attack by an enemy I’ve nicknamed unscrupulous slime balls. Unbidden, the words …

Trust the Gardener

… suddenly floated across my thoughts as if the whispering voice from Field of Dreams dropped in from Iowa. Just like the astonished Kevin Costner character, I spent the rest of my morning trying to figure out what exactly the voice meant.

Are my roses blooming because they trust me to worry about and address the nasty organisms assaulting their foliage? If so, I’d like to think they’ve put their trust in the right person. I love each and every one of those bushes in equal measure and would do just about anything to help them thrive.

But then, I thought, what if the voice was not answering my question about the roses but talking to me? Advising me?

I was raised in a Christian household, although I can’t say we consistently attended church or knew a whole lot about what’s in the Bible. I wouldn’t call our family religious then. And I’m not religious now.

What I am is someone who passionately believes in a higher power. Whether it’s the universe, the collective unconscious, the force, or the Good Lord Himself, there is a sacred, spiritual energy that connects everything. Love and goodwill run through it like currents in a river, and it grows stronger when we link into it through prayers and positive thoughts. I have faith that it’s there because I feel it.

Maybe the voice among the roses this morning was reminding me to trust this higher power that I so strongly believe in. Trust that I’m not alone in my struggle with the fungi … or in any of the struggles in my life … or even in coping with “the overwhelming level of ugliness that exists in our world today” (as I wrote in my last post).

Interestingly enough, for someone who doesn’t know a whole lot about the Bible, one verse I do know is this: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the Gardener” (John 15:1). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it came to mind this morning not long after the voice whispered in my ear.

There really is a great deal of comfort in knowing that someone’s got your back. Metaphorically speaking, I’ve got my roses’ backs. Spiritually speaking, the Gardener has my back … and yours.

Trust the Gardener

Garden Envy

During a visit to Oregon this month, I walked into my brother-in-law’s living room and was mesmerized by four old-growth camellia bushes outside a large side window. They were so heavy with stunning blossoms that they took my breath away.

Never have I felt more garden envy than I did in that moment.

Picture hundreds of pink ruffled tutus dotted with fresh Pacific Northwest rain. Hundreds of red sunbursts with yellow stamens reminiscent of Hawaiian hibiscus. Hundreds of paper white puffs tucked amid broad, green leaves like a ready-made bridal bouquet.

Immediately I wanted this kind of evergreen fairytale in my own yard.

Alas, living in the high desert of Northern Nevada, trying to replicate the splendor of these camellias is impossible. They do well in shade or dappled sunlight, which are in pretty short supply here. They don’t like extreme heat or alkaline soil, which is exactly what we do have. I still thought I might try one until I called our local nursery. “Too tender. We don’t carry them.”

It’s not that we don’t have many attractive choices for desert landscapes. Roses, honeysuckle, moonlight broom, lilacs, forsythia and bridal wreath spirea all usher in springtime with colorful blooms and heavenly scents.

Can I help it if I also have what can only be described as a spiritual adoration for everything else God created on this good earth?

With that question in mind, I found it delightfully serendipitous that I felt this soulful garden envy at the same time I was reading a new book called Holy Envy.

Written by Barbara Brown Taylor, the memoir is a treasure chest of insights the author gained as a professor of Religion 101 at a Christian liberal arts college. She’s an Episcopalian priest and, in the process of leading spiritual field trips for 20 years, she found something to love about all religions while remaining faithful to her own.

From Hinduism, she learned that religion is not a competitive sport. From Judaism, she learned it is not our beliefs that define us but what we do and how we live. From Buddhism, which is actually more a way of life than a religion, she learned that evangelism in its purest form is like a rose. “It simply spreads its fragrance, allowing people to respond as they will.”

Perhaps what I like best about her story, though, is the comparison of religions to the ocean. Each is a wave. Together, they are the sea.

Gardening is very much like that. The robust camellia belt across the humid southern states and up the west coast is enviable. But it’s not all there is. Here, purple sage blooms throughout the desert summer but wouldn’t like the moisture and shade the camellia covets. Likewise, the succulent yucca, with its impressive stalk of bell-shaped flowers, would disappoint a gardener in a cold, wet climate.

Garden envy or holy envy, I live in constant wonder that there is something to love in every wave in the sea.

 

Have a Little Faith

When winter comes to the rose garden, you rely on faith that you’ve done enough to get your precious bushes through the harsh months ahead.

For me, that means no pruning after mid-September, raking fall debris that could harbor destructive pests, and blanketing mulch around the base and over the crown of every bush. I consider the last step essential in the high desert since the overnight temperatures dip below freezing from November through March.

It isn’t until April, sometimes May, that I know whether my efforts were successful. Knock on wood, I’ve been pretty lucky. Most years all the canes green up, new growth appears, buds form, and beautiful flowers bloom.

The faith that gardeners and farmers place in the Earth is a lot like the faith people exercise this time of year. Maybe you hand a five dollar bill to a ragged man. Perhaps you pay for the coffee the person in the next car ordered. You don’t really know the effect these deeds will have on the beneficiary. You do it on faith that the gesture will make their day just a little bit better.

This year I wanted to take that concept and go big. I wasn’t particularly interested in the typical things people do and that I happily did alongside co-workers before I retired. Christmas dinner, Christmas presents, and other seasonal tokens somehow didn’t sound as helpful as paying a medical bill, wiping a school lunch tab clean, or filling an empty gas tank. As I described it to the social services specialist I contacted, “A Christmas gesture but not necessarily a Christmas need.”

In the end, I took on a wish list for siblings whose parents couldn’t afford to buy presents. It wasn’t my vision, but I was assured it truly was the highest need. I dived in with enthusiasm and recruited my family to help. We checked off nearly every item on the list, threw in a few surprises, and included an unsolicited present for the parents.

I choked up when my husband and I delivered everything to the collection point. At the time, I couldn’t really figure out why. It was just a pile of ordinary gifts. We’ll never even know who these people are. Then it hit me.

Have FaithIt isn’t about the gifts. They will be opened, and the kids will exclaim in momentary delight. The clothes will be worn and outgrown. The treasured toys will wear out.

What will remain is the memory that someone they didn’t know helped them have a nice Christmas. Even if only the parents are aware of the secret, the underlying message will become part of this family’s story. There is good in the world. There are people who care.

Just as I put faith in winterizing my garden, I’m putting faith in our Christmas gesture. One day the effort will bloom. We may not see the flower, but I have to believe that its beauty will make the world just a little bit better.