[Editor’s Note: When God created the world, he saw that “it was good.” In this series, we want to explore how our faith in Jesus helps us celebrate and enjoy what’s good in creation––but also work as stewards to help it thrive to its fullest potential. Caring for our planet, including plants and animals, fungi and microbes, ecosystems and people, is a high calling from God––a calling in which we can engage out of love and not fear. The gospel gives us hope that what is broken can be restored, and even now, we can enjoy what has been given to us. Join us as we #celebratecreation.]
It was a complete wreck, a source of embarrassment every time my siblings and I looked. And we did our best to not look. My mom’s former cottage garden, nestled against lichen-dotted pink Georgian Bay granite, was now overgrown with ferns and weeds, a few barren peonies and raspberry bushes struggling to peek through the chaos. Every so often, one of us would ponder the feasibility of ripping the whole thing out and starting afresh. Nope, too much work.
But then, one spring day as I trailed behind my friend Celia at her favourite garden centre, I was suddenly overcome with garden envy. Such a tantalizing array of colours and scents! I wondered if I could get some container plants going on my apartment balcony, but knew that it wasn’t really feasible since I was generally at the family cottage for much of the summer. But then Celia glanced over at me, and with a distinct twinkle in her eye, commented, “Well, I know that your mom used to have a garden up at the cottage. Ever thought of doing something with that?”
Before I knew it, the back seat of my car was loaded with daisies, geraniums, lavender, yarrow, coreopsis, bee balm, foxgloves, fleeceflower, and daylilies. It didn’t matter that weeding had been a despised cottage chore. I had to have all those flowers! Celia was coming to visit mid July, and I was determined to have everything cleaned up and planted before her arrival.
After unloading my collection of plants beside the cabin and locating Mom’s old gardening tools in the shed, I dove in. The ferns were delightfully easy to pull out. Three wheelbarrows full, and it was done. Why did I wait so long to do something with the garden? I should be ready to start planting tomorrow! I knew that I should loosen the soil and remove the weeds before I started planting, so I pulled out a shovel and started digging. Thud. Hmm. Shift to a different spot? Thud. To my horror, I discovered a deep, almost impenetrable web of thick raspberry roots stretching throughout the entire garden. Two weeks, a bent shovel, a couple of blisters, and many, many large wheelbarrows of roots later, I still had 70 square feet to dig up, and not one new plant in the ground. And there came Celia, driving down the lane! Busted.
Celia’s a true friend. Not only did she help clean out the remainder of the plot, she also saved its new inhabitants from a probable demise by passing on her gardening expertise: grouping, planting, watering, fertilizing, protecting.
Nine summers later, my garden is full and flourishing. It’s also a bit wild—which suits the surrounding landscape. It nourishes and delights my soul.
I have loved the journey of discovering what will flourish in this summer garden at the heart of the Canadian Shield. Things that are sun-loving. Tolerant of fierce November gales, bitter winter cold, and 10 months of complete neglect. Deer-resistant—well, theoretically, at least. I’ve learned the importance of selecting non-invasive plants (my suspicions about that beautiful bellflower are deepening). I prefer plants that have a July-August cottage-season flowering period, and that are attractive to bees and butterflies—it’s a particular delight whenever I catch monarch caterpillars chomping their way through the milkweed. And it’s a good thing that I like purple, because everything purple thrives. Pink or blue? Rarely makes it past the first winter. Orange? Deer snack.
I relish the rhythms of colour: the bright yellow day lilies and full-blossomed white and pink peonies in early July; the deep purples and reds of geraniums, balloon flowers and bee balm, and the white and gentle yellows of daisies and coreopsis in full summer; the mid-August golds of black-eyed Susans; the softening of whites and reds in fleeceflower and yarrow as fall approaches. I delight in the rich purple and green of the “ancestral” rhubarb that lines the sunny cabin wall, and in the dots of crimson from the wild raspberries that, safely contained beyond the confines of the main garden, once again provide juicy treats for foraging family and guests. I thrill in the shimmering green flash of tiny hummingbirds, the delicious browns and blues of admiral butterflies, and the bright orange of monarchs.
I relish the rhythms of cultivation. The almost audible sighing and stretching out of new growth as I remove the thick blanket of oak and maple leaves from the previous fall, and launch into the first major weeding and fertilizing of the season. Watering. Plucking and pruning. Moving, adding, separating—to help flourish or balance. More weeding. Who could have predicted that I would enjoy weeding now? So satisfying! Mulching. Anticipating. Dreaming.
I relish the sounds and scents as I work: wind rustling through trees, lap of waves against rocky shore, hummingbird hum, bumblebee buzz. The thirst-quenching flow and spatter of water. Sweetness. Tanginess. Squirrel chatter, chipmunk scamper. Bird songs, gull cries, woodpecker taps. Slap! Take that, mosquito! The deep rumble of a passing Great Lakes tanker, the lighter throb of a vacationer’s motorboat. Distant conversations and laughter, high-pitched shrieks and splashes of gleeful children.
I am generally alone as I work in my garden. And yet, it is a place of relationships, connections, and love. It holds memories of those who have gone ahead: of my great-great-great-great-grandmother, who immigrated with a single root from which all of our “ancestral” rhubarb is descended; of my mother, who cultivated her garden faithfully; of my father, who planted the peonies in memory of his father, and who edged the raised garden bed with native flagstones. I think that they would be happy if they could see the garden now—as would my friend Rosemarie, freshly mourned, who gifted me early on with geraniums from her own garden. I think with love and appreciation of Celia: gardener, artist, sister in faith, and encourager. Of the several family members who helped create our rhubarb patch. Of my brother who, a couple of bays up the coast, cultivates his own, much more food-focussed garden—which includes several of our grandfather’s prize-winning peonies—and of my sister-in-law, who invented the most delicious rhubarb compote. Of my sister and brother-in-law (current owners of the cottage), who make it clear how thankful they are for the restored garden. Of the countless guests who have shared in the enjoyment of this beautiful space. I am rooted in this land and garden, but also in the people it represents—past, present, and future.
As I work in my garden, I remember other gardens. I remember my mom’s garden as it once was, similar yet different, a place of beauty and abundance. I remember what that garden became as it was abandoned and neglected.
I remember the very first garden, Eden, in which a dreadful choice was made that cursed all humanity, but in which a promise was also given, a promise of restoration and healing, a promise of life to come (Genesis 3).
I remember the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, where another choice was made, in agony and yet in joy. A choice of surrender, willingness, love, and sacrifice, a choice that said, “They’re worth it. You’re worth it” (Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1; Hebrews 12:2).
I remember the garden containing the tomb that was now empty, resurrection life overcoming wilderness death (John 19:41; 20:11-18), inviting all to new creation life.
I look forward to the garden that is our certain future, Eden restored and even better. Death will be swallowed up in life, only beauty will bloom, and at the heart of a heavenly city, the leaves of the tree of life will bring healing to the nations (Revelation 22:1-5).
But that garden is not yet ours. For now, I see places of wilderness, bitterness and anguish, of disappointment, agony, and grief—grief for what has been lost, grief for what has never been.
I also see gardens flourishing in the midst of that wilderness, gardens overflowing with life, hope, restoration, and joy, where lives are made new and what is bitter becomes sweet.
So for now, I pray. I pray in lament for wilderness places and experiences. I pray against the weeds and snakes that make their way into even fruitful spaces. I pray in thanksgiving and hope for gardens of life and fruitfulness and beauty. For now, I work in hope and expectation, rooted in Christ, in love, and in the grand story of what God is doing.
In this garden, I celebrate my Creator. The one who made all things and who is making all things new. The one who will bring unity and wholeness to all things in heaven and on earth under his Son. The master Gardener. Restoring what was broken. Bringing life and light, beauty and fruit out of wretchedness and darkness, ugliness and barrenness. Cultivating. Maintaining. Holding. Separating. Bringing together. Nourishing. The one who is immeasurably more committed to the flourishing of his people than I am to the flourishing of my cottage garden. The one who brings me joy as I savour and work in his creation.
In this garden, I love, encounter, and worship my Creator.