Josh Larsen asks a good question about gardening in his blog on Thinkchristian.net http://www.thinkchristian.net/index.php/2010/04/22/gardening-act-of-worship-or-poor-stewardship/ . He asks whether gardening is an act of worship or poor stewardship. I was inspired to write the following response.
Gardening is worship. So is teaching and woodworking and homemaking. That is why Calvinism continues to be the expression of Christianity that most appeals to me. Soli deo gloria. God’s sovereignty over all, every human activity designed to give him praise, all of life sanctified in Christ and to Christ. On that level gardening is indeed simply another sphere where Christians can thoughtfully work out their faith convictions.
So, as Josh suggests, there are stewardly and not-so-stewardly ways to garden. Every plant is tagged with a card that outlines its growth requirements and also proudly asserts that gardening is good for the earth. I smile wryly at that because every plant I buy also comes in a plastic, non-biodegradable pot. Fortunately, my favourite nursery recycles their pots and I do go to the trouble of returning all the pots. I have begun making my own compost. It’s a nod to environmentalism and I have a long way to go to refine the process. I am using a standard cylindrical compost container, but there is a newer version available, a drum that you can roll to circulate the mixture. It looks much more manageable for me, and can create more compost in the same physical space. When I do buy topsoil or triple mix, I buy it in bulk and my husband loads it on his pickup truck. Saves a few bags. I also have an aesthetically pleasing rainbarrel unobtrusively tucked in a corner and I regularly use that water instead of my hose. For those who know me well, it has an ingenious perforated cover, so no frogs or snakes or other slimy creatures can get in to gross me out!
Another stewardly practice is dividing your perennials and filling your garden with your own plants. Many varieties of hosta, ligularia, daylilies are easy to divide. I have many plants in my garden that are gifts from friends. There are naturalist-type gardeners, however, who do not like this practice as it, in the long-run, perverts the natural habitat and plant eco-system of an area. But I live in a suburb. Natural no longer exists on my street, anyway. 🙂
Gardening is not just about doing something for the environment. For me, it’s really not about that at all, even though I strive to be at least somewhat eco-sensitive in my efforts. For me, it’s primarily an artistic endeavour. I am painting my yard with plants. The composition is everything. Thus, any arguments that apply to why should Christians take the time to create art, to write books, to learn to play an instrument also apply to gardening. On some very deep, instinctual level, I find gardening, like writing, to be an order-producing activity. It creates an inner peace, a plane where I am in touch with God, using his God-given abilities to imagine and execute cohesion and meaning. T. S. Eliot’s poem Choruses From the ‘Rock’ contains a few lines about creativity that have always stayed with me: “The Lord who created must wish us to create/And employ our creation again in His service/Which is already His service in creating.” Language, purposely arranged, can create beauty out of the chaos of experience – linking all those disparate, disturbing, joyful or painful events. When I write, I put my world in a place where it can be objectified and comprehended. When I garden, I am doing the same thing. I’m arranging plants, meticulously removing weeds, amending the soil, and planning space. The garden itself becomes sculpture.
Colour, texture, shape, form, line. All of these design elements are critical in my garden. The whole effect has to be pleasing to the eye, as well as smaller vignettes and focal points within the whole. As most gardeners know, structure is foundational in the garden. The shed, the fences, the boundary line of cedars, and larger trees create the backdrop on which smaller shrubs and plantings are hung, so to speak. All of it is planned and manipulated to achieve an effect. On the one hand it is very artificial. On the other hand, it’s still organic. I can’t begin to describe the sheer joy of July when the garden is at its peak. I can go outside again and again and be absolutely delighted by waving grasses, bright, bouncy poppies, dainty coreopsis, all in harmonious colours and complementary shapes and sizes. Spring is pretty good, too, with the redbuds in bloom and the pear tree and the weeping cherry. Even fall and winter offer certain panoramas that are breathtaking.
This is not how everyone gardens, I am well aware. My neighbour used to have a vegetable garden in the lot next to mine. He mocked me daily for the fact that you can’t eat anything from my garden. I mocked him for the utilitarian ugliness of his garden. Some gardeners use only native plants. Some just scatter plants and flowers willy-nilly. Each to his own. Mine is tidy and architectural.
I do find gardening a way to carve out some extended time for reflection and prayer. Sometimes I think I want to call my garden The Amen Corner because it’s my preferred place to pray. I also shamelessly anthropomorphize my garden. My three Canadian Hemlocks are my Shannon, Patrick, and Tom trees, named for my kids. Throughout the garden are rocks I’ve collected from various locales – from my friend Harmene’s beach, from Cuba where Patrick got married, from our trip to Europe. Many, many plants and trees are endowed with nostalgia. I can tell you every plant that I got from my neighbour Theresa and my other neighbours, Jim and Linda. I have a special redbud hand-selected by my friend Art DeGroot, a co-owner of DeGroot’s Nurseries. Someday, I hope to write something about the impact gardening can have on a neighbourhood. There is a lot of good that can be accomplished in a community through gardening, both in terms of sharing foodstuffs, and in terms of beautification.
My husband is a carpenter and he built the home we live in. The backyard was a blank canvas twenty-three years ago. That brings a uniqueness to my garden as well. It is completely ours. We built it together. Mark has poured tons of energy into my dreams. He constructed what I call the second-best shed in our town (the best is our neighbours’ but they paid six times the money :-). He built a fence that is both functional and handsome. He has rototilled, slugged dirt around, dug holes for trees, removed dead bunnies and birds, sunk a firebox into the ground, hauled stone, and basically proven his love for me a thousand times over with sheer muscle. He doesn’t care a fig for gardening. It’s all for me. He’s not the most verbal guy, but all I have to do to hear “I love you” is look at my yard.
Have we spent too much money? Not really, given our hands-on approach. Should I be spending my time at the soup-kitchen or in other “kingdom” pursuits? I do those kinds of things, conscientiously. But, if I read the Bible right, from beginning to end, God is a gardener. I think he loves to watch me garden.