Tending Our Gardens

by David Stewart

Delivered January 6, 2018

I grew up with a garden. A very large one. In fact, most of what I ate came from my yard, including that garden. My mother worked a lot to plant the garden and harvest it and the yard, which she often preserved. The fruit trees and berries had been started many years before by the previous owners. My family was the beneficiary of those plantings and I am grateful to them for it to this day.

You might wonder why I am so grateful. After all, having an edible yard is a lot of work. The phrase blood, sweat, and tears is not out of line when considering such a yard. My reason was the taste of pears. You have never had a pear if you haven’t eaten one that is golden ripe and impossible to ship to a grocery store. Melons, tomatoes, and other fruit are famously delicate, impossible to get to a grocery store if they weren’t picked green. Those were staples of our garden, the ripe, sweet, lush fruit of summer. Oh, but the pears were so, so good. I can taste them in my mind, and I miss them still.

Fast forwarding 30 years, I find that one of the most profound results of my continuing efforts to garden is its spiritual impact. Let me share how gardening helps to ground me by bringing a sense of peace, an adjustment of expectations, and a patience for the passing of seasons. 

I often feel the rush to achieve. I check items off my lists (which miraculously never seems to get shorter) and work feverishly to make my mark. I might be rushing our children to hurry so we move on to our next activity, such as making dinner, writing an email or doing accounting work for my business, or completing a non-profit project for which I have missed another deadline. This rushed and impatient mindset is not conducive to a harvest mentality that is described in the Jewish and Christian traditions. 

Let us recall that verse from Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” This scripture is one of the most often quoted in the Bible, and often reflects the type of things I consider while gardening.

However, in my experience, the remainder of this passage from the Bible is often left out. The remainder is about joy and mortality: “What do the workers gain from their toil? . . . I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.”

Plants, however, have their own agenda. They grow on their own schedule and commune with the divine in their own way. They won’t respond to your hurried state or your desire for immediate results. To gain any satisfaction from gardening, you have to slow down and come out of your head. One has to wait for the plants to produce depending on the season, on the effort and nurturing one puts into it. 

There is also a strong dose of better understanding our own mortality in the passing of seasons and reaping and sowing year after year. This knowledge also is in the front of my mind while I teach my children about the value of food and work. My first son has always gone straight to the blueberry bushes to eat fruit straight out of the yard. He will eat almost anything out of the garden, but I am still working to teach him that while the harvest is enjoyable, what makes it the best food in the world is the work and anticipation put in well before it is the bounty is eaten. My second son is not a huge fan of vegetables, and yet he will eat yellow tomatoes straight off of the vine. I have a lot of hope he and his younger brother will eat more fully from the garden in the future, and thereby learn more about the cycle of life. 

So, in the hurried world we live in, in this city that is supposed to be too busy to hate, where there is never enough time to finish never-ending my to-do list, I am glad to make time to scratch around in the soil and plant a garden.