Preparation – Getting Down and Dirty

It’s all a matter of what grows best in what condition, and in what climate. Each plant th-70requires specific nutrients found in specific soils. Most need help, my Mum explained as I unloaded bag after bag of peat moss, wood chips and fortified earth. Mine certainly did. No loamy soil in these thereabouts!

Many of us have an idea of what kind of soil nourishes our gardens. I’d been told, well before I began gardening, that much of our community was built upon clay. Dense clay. Slimy, slip-and-slide-in-your-rainboots-clay. Stubbornly-cling-to-your-spade-clay. Spit-and-splatter-on-your-basement-windows-clay.

Apparently clay has a great deal going for it. Clay is a super foundation for some plants, since they acquire strength as their roots forcibly thrust their way through, and firmly grip the soil. Because of that determined and unyielding grip, plants can weth-73ather extreme conditions, and become hardier, stronger. Perfect for asters, day lilies, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis and yarrow, among other things I was told. Clay soil needs a bit more work, but it keeps moisture well. Add a good rich compost to increase nutrient value and aeration, and my garden will flourish, I was told.

I find that the Gardener needs to work my soil too to see His dream for me realized. Too often, after he removes the concrete slabs atop, there can remain directly beneath a layer much like pure, dense clay beneath, unresponsive to his abundance of refreshing water. Like clay, I often dry up in the sun and harden in its pressurizing heat. But we have a tender Gardener. He knows the potential. And that potential he wants realized for us for he loves us that much.

I think all soil in every garden is eager to receive and nourish plants and fauna to growth. I think it’s in its nature. Perhaps it even shares in the joy of the splendor that it helped to realize. The question is, once God has worked my soil (and guaranteed he will), what do I wish to produce from it? What will be its harvest? Will it be resentment or will it be joy? Will it be jealousy or will it be love? Will it be fear or faith?

I hope that as he works my soil, the Gardener leaves a good trace of his DNA, his character mixed and blended into the quality of soil that promotes healthy, robust and resilient growth. He knows better than I that surface work is only the beginning, that in the deep parts there are too many toxins, contaminants and other bits and pieces of garbage. I imagine he knowingly discovers sharp, hard, abrasive materials over which scabs have grown. Still I know I need the Gardener to plunge his digging fork to do some deep-soil tilling, turning it over and over, so he can sift and lift out all the uncompostible, to liberate and transform my soil and blooms into more than clay and weeds. I need his aeration, amelioration and augmentation.

At regular th-72intervals, he blends in the rich compost of discomfort, of challenge, of lessons to be learned and theories unlearned. He softens the scabs and dresses the wounds. Painful, for often they are so deep and so encrusted and caked that I’ve grown used to them. But he persists. Seeds of his Truth are planted with generous abandon, moistened by tears of compassion, and generous forgiveness. He showers them with his refreshing and sanctifying water, his liquid love. Gently he pulls out tares from his crop of wheat, so they don’t damage the good that has taken root. Sometimes he sows more seeds so that his Truth crowds out intruding weed to starve it of nourishment. Slowly, what had been planted beneath begins to stretch and breathe and curl and bend upward toward the breath of his heart.

Till. Compost. Turn. Weed. Lavish sowing of Seeds. Water. Son-shine. He is the Good Gardener, full of tenderness, full of grace. He knows the kind of soil needed to produce a garden that flourishes in his Kingdom. And he prizes abundant flourishing!

My soil needs work. A lot of work.

th-76Will I allow the gentle-hearted Gardener to turn and till my garden’s soil? To weed it of seedlings and mature plants that choke out the Son-flowers? Will I welcome the compost of trials? Will I persevere and withstand the heat and blistering cold, to push my roots down further through the softer layers he’s prepared to the deep streams of water to strengthen them?

My soil needs work. A lot of work. Thank goodness there is One who loves deeply, gives cheerfully, knows fully and who heartily and eagerly undertakes my underneath!

th-42Some seed fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much dirt. That seed ·grew [sprang up] very fast, because the ground was not deep. But when the sun rose, the plants dried up [were scorched and withered], because they did not have deep roots. Some other seed fell among thorny weeds, which grew and choked the good plants.
Matthew 13. 5-7 (Expanded Bible)

“‘O my people Judah, those of you who have escaped the ravages of the siege shall become a great nation again; you shall be rooted deeply in the soil and bear fruit for God.'”
2 Kings 19: 30 (The Living Bible)






Preparation – What Covers the Surface?


th-66Doesn’t it delight and surprise you when, amidst a vast vista of concrete, steel and glass, a lone perky flower unexpectedly and bravely peaks through?  It can’t help but make you smile! Even if it’s a dandelion! When you consider that all our communities, large and small, are built th-56upon a garden of some kind, I guess it makes sense that we should see evidence of its life sprouting up once in awhile. But, what more could be under there? Have you ever wondered? Life surely bustles underneath: worms still burrow, ants still march, roots still strain and spread. There is vibrancy that whispers from below, and if we were to remove what covers, it would surely spring up with energy and enthusiasm, a fertile ground that takes in, and stretches with gleeful purpose. That little flower is but a hint to tickle our imaginations to what lies below, and its defiance to the nature of its strength.

th-64One of the first steps we undertook in our new garden was to remove the ocean-liner of concrete slabs that cut a path through our back yard. Fledgling but fainting wild daisies that dared to slip around its fortress walls were gingerly transplanted. Hunks of concrete were heaved and removed to stacks elsewhere. No glamour here. Muscles were pulled. Mud was flung. Colorful expressions discovered. Hot, hard and heavy work! Phantoms of what had been were manifest in the bleached strip of shriveled and starved limp grass, its pale and frail roots bare to the unrelenting and blistering sunshine. We quickly pulled out the dead, liberally scattered grass seed, covered the raw wound with cool and soothing enriched soil, and saturated it with refreshing water.

Hard and heavy work too for the Gardener of my heart and soul, as he removes the weights and rigidity that afflict and burden heavy upon the growth he has nourished, upon growth he further envisions. But he has never stopped, nor ever will, working in the underneath. That little flower only hints at the much more that he wants and anticipates to carpet the world with. More. Our God has and wants more for his children. Splendiforously more. More within and outwardly to be extravagantly seeded, to be nurtured and grown, to be spread beyond in the tag-team of relationships to light up the world. If only I would agree to remove the slab to expose the effervescent glory, to absorb his much more! Thankfully, he is not one to stand aside and watch me do it alone. Nor is he one to stand on top to make it an impossible task. No. He helps.  th-50Whether the soil, the fainting flower or the limp grass beneath the weight, I can be encouraged that he is actually willing to get hot and sweaty and do some heavy lifting. But he won’t do it alone.

As we work, I can be assured that I am the love of his heart, that he is eager to lift that little bloom out from under, to uncover others ready to push upward, to scrape away the lifeless, to lavishly scatter seed for new. But for goodness’ sake, Erin, let’s lift that comfort-zone slab off of all this potential! I can choose to believe and know that he will soften and break the surface that has been hardened by th-78my ego and pride and their thorny relatives, to uncover, to scrape away the deadwood of my own misguided doings, the misguided doings of others upon me, and my chosen reponse to their misguided doings.  But for heaven’s sake, Erin, let’s get this slab of hurt, resentment, anger, fear, snap-judgements, hopelessness and faithlessness out of the way to let the sunshine in to truly heal, and render this patch fertile soil for new seed! I can choose to believe that these very difficulties are his affirmation that there is always something glorious, surprising and persistent deep beneath to be sown, watered, and ready to push through resistance in perky bloom. Will I get out of my own obstinate way to let him in?

Can I muster the strength to push aside my ego, hurt, fear and stubborn willfulness, to invite the Gardener through the gate, to survey together and to begin? Will I agree that a condition rarely stays the same but is always dynamic, and when I look back, grows into something good? His good? And when I do, will I trust his hands to bring me there, trust him to judge whether the slab needs to be gently lifted, ripped in whole away, or given a good, hard wallop to smash it into a layer of dust that serves to somehow fertilize future growth?  Can I find hope that he could choose to open floodgates of tenderness and love to wash over the ossification and wear it down to powder?

Will there be pain? I don’t care for pain. I’d rather not. th-81But have you found like me that avoiding pain only seems to prolong and actually intensify it, propagating like a poison? That it takes little to unexpectedly trigger it and send you into its dizzying spiral all over again that seeps into everything you think and do?  But what if I were to turn it on its head, to use it as an opportunity to tune into a truth – that it can be a whistle and wink to the truth of our Gardener’s pure nature and heart and his desire to see a change in me? Could I lean into his heart, to agree that he wants only what is best for me, that he will accompany me through these moments into a healthier, new direction? What if I held a vice-grip on that assurance that he will face it with me, prescribe according to the condition of my condition, and take my heart into his own and move me ahead?  If today is a living and breathing testament to his past work in me, I will live to tell of that day, and tomorrow will yet again. In fact, I think he delights in each moment of victory right along with me!

cropped-seedling.jpg“Let’s do it,” whispered with unexplained and newfound determination. Erin, keep eyes on the well-equipped and deftly skilled Gardener, no matter his prescription and method. Eyes on him who grieves deeply out of love over my hardness, and to spare me its outcome. Eyes on him through the pain, and as he and I work together, uncovering the shriveled seedlings and starved roots of dormant resplendent beauty. Eyes on him as he gently removes the deadwood, soothes with the rich soil of his love, seeds with his lavish abundance, waters with his tears, and cools with his grace. Eyes on him as he softens and tenders, transplants and prods growth to infuse and spread across his masterpiece creation. Eyes on him as he rejoices with me, with us, at each interval!


“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.”
Matthew 13: 18,19 (The Message)

All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Proverbs 15: 15 (New Revised Standard Version)

 Jesus was angry as he looked at the people. But he felt very sad because they were stubborn. Then he said to the man, “Let me see your hand.” The man put his hand out for Jesus, and it was healed.
Mark 3: 5 (International Children’s Bible)


A vision of what could be…

Tired, tattered and scrubby tufts of grass in the mottled front yard. Defiant dandelion th-38regiments springing up in attack formation. Well-worn grass along the side of house to meet the backyard. Blocks of rectangular utilitarian cement dropped unceremoniously, slicing a path like a lumbering liner through waves of exhausted overgrown grass toward the driveway. Not a flower, not a shrub, save for the wild and crazed appearance of a parched honeysuckle that clung to the side of the back balcony as if to save itself from the sea of overrun savagery.

Such was our garden our first summer in our present home. But, I was undaunted and focused.

I walked slowly from front to back, caught up in what I knew could be. A vision unfolded before me. Springing up was a brilliant kaleidoscope of color in foliage and flower sidling up against the front balcony and under first floor windows, and a wooden fence softened with creeping flowering hydrangea and graceful tendrils. th-45Majestic cedars would rise to frame an arbored entrance to the flag-stone pathway that would meander alongside our new house through a dizzying array of English garden blooms and scents. Mum’s lily of the valley would have to be planted along the foundation so their delicious perfume would waft into our windows in the early spring! The path would widen to a patio where wicker lounges with generous poufy upholstered cushions would invite weary travellers a moment of rest. Maybe a glass of lemonade, iced Red Zinger tea?  A glass of cold, white wine? Off to our left, we’d see an enlarged balcony with potted palm trees, their frawns waltzing in the gentle breeze. A small bistro set would be th-46nestled in the corner for the occasional intimate souper à deux. Hmm… A small pot of coral geraniums would look nice on the table, and maybe a planter or two of herbs at easy reach from the kitchen. Don’t forget to water them, and not too much!

From there would be wooden steps up to our fenced-deck where a wrought-iron table and chairs, a barbecue, and a small, warm and handsome sitting area would fill its expanse. Vibrant, lush and fragrant annuals would spill from large terra-cotta pots dotted around its surface. Strung around the large canvassed patio umbrella would be rustic outdoor lights to softly illuminate animated (very animated) conversations and easy laughter that would stretch into the slowly darkening night. Back on the field-stone patio and off to the right, peering through the two regal trees, would be my grandmother’s phlox and bearded irises, Mum’s daisies and lilies rising up in front of the protection of cedars stationed around the periphery of the small back garden. Perhaps there would be a small bird-bath with the neighborhood mummy sparrows chittering whilst washing their chicks. And around this majestic maple, what about a fun little play area where our future children could play, imagine and climb? Over here, what about a small raised vegetable and herb garden too? In front of us, the patio would end at the stairwell that would spiral down toward the driveway.

I had not the faintest idea if these plans would come to pass in the small spaces afforded me. I saw the immense potential, and it was exciting!. Inspiring. I knew that more than likely, the plans would need adjustment as more detailed surveying would take place. They did. Exposure to the sun. Shady areas. Drainage. Water source. Condition and character of the soil. Pests in the area. Lots of pests in the area. Mr.-and-Mrs.-squirrels-th-77pests. Nest-condos in our majestic maple tree for the nourished-and-fattened-by-our neighbours pesky squirrels. Parents Richard and Isabelle, as we named them, favored the heads of our tulips, and would hide their stash of nuts  in our terra-cotta pots. Their children, Harold and Emma would bury theirs under upturned roots of flowering daisies, liatris, sweet peas, and Sweet William. None of them remembered where they’d buried their treasures. All of them would frantically dig up our garden in search. The aftermath of these quests dotted our garden like beds in an emergency ward. Little inconveniences. Things reorganized and amended my plans, but plans I still had.

It would be several years until any of my vision came to be realized. Several battles with Harold and Emma, and ambulatory trips to the garden center; several under-watered and over-fertilized episodes sprinkled with seasons of outright delight at the abundant and luxurious growth.

It never did and never will stop. Planning in deliciously pleasurable perpetual motion.

This is what, I understand, many real gardeners find, and come to expect. First, they walk the lot, th-51and based upon a myriad of conditions that they test and take note of, vision takes shape and coalesces in their mind. Planning and determination follow. The goal of nudging this patch of land into one that joyously shouts of abundance and glory begins. No terrain is beyond reach of transformation. No patch is too small. No challenge overwhelms a solution that will produce profuse and copious flourishing. Making and remaking. Planning and re-planning. Always on the move.

Our Master Gardener is in perpetual and undaunted motion as well, undeterred by any and all obstacle, and resolute in determination. He is caught up too. He is inspired not by what could be, but by what will be. He knows the plans he has for us – faint ideas they are not. But I wonder what he sees when he looks upon the garden of my soul, of my heart.

Does he sigh and see a condition beyond any hope of restoration or rejuvenation, or does he relish in the potential that hums beneath?

Does he despair at the overgrowth of the underbrush, or does he delight in the prospect of rolling up his sleeves and digging in to uproot and refresh?

Does he anger at the neglect and rebellion, the infestation of pests, and throw up his hands, abandoning all hope, or does he choose to gently tackle this little corner and then that, and so on, so that renewal slowly but surely spreads like a blossoming aromatic wave that coaxes and engulfs the whole?

th-47Does he see me standing in front of some patches, forbidding him from entering? Dark and foreboding places? Places of profound hurt, deep shame and debilitating guilt? “No terrain is beyond reach of transformation,” he softly whispers. “Don’t be afraid. Let me in to warm it with my light and life.”

Do the alarms that sound really come from his direction, or from my very insecurities, harmful habits and attitudes where he is kneeling, bending to gently uproot, to remove and replace with confident and exuberant beauty?

Does he bulldoze his way through, or does he extend a trowel or spade toward me, and invite me into his infectious enthusiasm, to partner with him in clearing the brush and unearthing the me whose hairs he counted, and eyes he painted?

It is said that no two gardens are really truly identical just as no two gardeners are. Each garden reflects glimpses of the gardener’s natural style, and their unique personality. It is also said that a garden is amongst the only places where you could create a splendiferous world, one as you would very much like it to be.

th-50Oh, the splendiferousness the One and Only Master Gardener would very much like for each of us, his parcels of elegant loveliness! Extravagantly and outrageously splendiferous. Triumphant in gentleness and goodness. Brimming in faith and joy. Rich in hope and peace. Brilliantly gleaming with kindness. Glistening in character and self-constraint. Gloriously exquisite in marvelous uniqueness, spilling over with his family resemblance. Exquisitely marvelous and intertwining plots of wondrous beauty trickling and spilling into his expansive, vibrant and lush carpet of flourishing in magnificent Kingdom splendor. And he will not stop until his purpose is fulfilled in me, in you, in each of us.

Will I pick up the trowel and join him?

But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!
Habakkuk 2:2-3 (Living Bible)

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” Luke 12:32 (Living Bible)


Carlsbad flower fields

Soil and Seed