I love vegetable gardens.
Admittedly, I currently do not tend to one, but I have in the past. Instead, I now admire the hard work of others from afar, and frequent my local produce stands where I am able to select from local red tomatoes, freshly pulled sweet corn, plump green peppers, and especially at this time of year, juicy Pennsylvania peaches.
“The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.” ( George Bernard Shaw)
For me, a single year of a vegetable garden represents life. Within its cycle, you can observe the full circle of nature and appreciate its magic.
For many years, my parents had a wonderful vegetable garden at the far end of our property. Not only did it fill stomachs with its delicious bounty, but it also saturated their souls with joy and a great sense of satisfaction from the hard work. Mom and Dad have always been good stewards of the land and The Garden fueled my love of nature. The hours and energy spent in The Garden are now slowing down as their bodies age. But tending to a smaller version still brings them great joy. We all need to make adjustments as we mature, but we don’t have to fully give up the things we love.
I wanted to share with you a piece that I wrote a few years ago as a tribute to this special place.
The modest rectangular plot of rich dark soil lay unpretentiously behind the friendly shadow of the wooden barn. Guarded by a sun bleached stockade fence and assorted trees, The Garden thrives and performs its miracles. Brightly colored wild flowers invite visitors to the northern side. The aromas from the fragrant fresh herbs waft from the East. It is a quiet and unassuming place to the eye, but for the soul, it is a source of magic and inspiration. Under the watchful eye of its landlords, the cycles of nature perform their sonatas in concert with one another, year after year without missing a beat.
Geometric patterns are tilled into the dark cool soil by hand. Straight rows and small squares are sculpted out by well-worn tools. Hoes, rakes, and shovels arouse the earth and move it about, awakening it from its long winter slumber. Minuscule seeds of extraordinary varieties burrow below the surface in anticipation of sunshine and warmth. They wait patiently for the nutrients of the earth to crack open their hard shells and release the sprouts of new life. Ever so inconspicuous, delicate emerald-green filaments vigorously push clear past the weight of the land and reach anxiously towards the sun. Day by day, their journey continues, until at last, a full plant has evolved.
The sun casts its light early upon The Garden. For half of the day it will reflect its beams and warmth upon the plants, vines, and blossoms. Assorted shades of green, speckled with splashes of color like the hues from an artist’s palette, fill the plot of land. Butterflies and honey bees dance about the plants as if they are switching from one partner to another in a mad frenzy of dance. Petite buds of fruit swell out from under their protective leaves and mature as the long summer hours wear on. Gentle rains wash away the dust and pollen and everything looks new again. The days grow longer and so do the stems and twisted vines in The Garden. A layer of dew refreshes their parched surfaces as the night falls, and it is time for rest. Weary from their open hours, the blossoms slowly close and preserve themselves for another day of beauty. The butterflies and bees return home and the rhythmic chirp of the cricket stands guard.
Autumn (The Harvest)
With a great sense of satisfaction, their tired hands pluck the red tomatoes from the vines. Perfect deep purple egg plants reflect the low autumn light as they hang in wait for their turn. New potatoes are revealed from deep below like tiny treasures in a miner’s pan. Herbs are harvested in large bunches to be dried for cooking and decoration. Petite prickly cucumbers are delicately placed into a colander awaiting the right moment to be blanched and pickled. The Garden is selfless. It gives away its treasures without asking anything in return. It has borrowed nature’s warmth and moisture to produce its own gifts in return. And from these presents, the landlady makes her offerings of carefully filled mason jars of pickles, relishes, chutney, and preserves. The rows of thick clear blue glass Ball jars reflect the late afternoon light as they sit idly on the kitchen counter. Now, The Garden is no longer outside. It is inside. It is waiting to be shared with family and friends during the cold winter days when its existence is just a memory. The tender juicy vegetables awaken our taste buds and remind us of the warm summer days.
The compost of brown leaves becomes the blanket. Carefully spread as a protective layer, it seals the earth. By late November, the white snowy bedspread creates a fluffy top layer. Sh-h-h, The garden is sleeping. Curious deer and rabbits poke about the few hollow stalks standing mischievously in the vacant rows. Frosty white drifts pile high along the fence and create new lines and shadows. Clear frozen icicles hang down from the nearby branches directing attention to the special place below. The landlords follow the sun to the South. The house sits idle.The barn is all alone. But, The Garden remains safe and undisturbed, ready for the next season, ready to give once again.
“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.”(Alfred Austin)
Perhaps you too are a gardener and have enjoyed taking care of a plot of your own. You then can appreciate the work, and its rewards.
As we tend to our lives, we pass through seasons of warmth and times of solitude and bleakness. But, just like the cycles in the garden, they all pass. By cultivating and nourishing hope, we can prepare our spirits for future gifts and the next stage of life.
Don’t give up the things you love. There is a season for everything.