By Ruth Johnston
When we bought our house in south Minneapolis 12 years ago, it had everything I wanted except sun for gardening. There was a small yard but it was covered with trees in front and back. I tried container gardening and making a small garden on top of asphalt by the garage. These attempts met with tepid success. Then last year, my neighbors took down the very large river birch tree that straddled their backyard and mine. I was sad to see the tree go, but couldn’t help feeling this was my chance at a real garden. I began planning in January: I would create three garden boxes, I would plant vegetables and flowers, I would make a space for my ten-year-old to plant, I would plant two blueberry bushes. I read articles, bought seeds and an indoor greenhouse where I started growing lettuce over winter. I got to a point where it seemed like a fine idea to weigh the food I produced so that I could remember and quantify my success.
As the year progressed, I got busier with my job as a hospice grief counselor. I had new opportunities that took more time. My ten-year-old was released from school over summer and plans had to be in place for him every day. Family get-togethers cropped up and we decided to make a few unplanned trips to see relatives. And, well, life happened. The garden beds were made and planted, but the weeding was hit and miss. Not everything thrived. We had some peas, tomatoes, and chard but my radishes didn’t do well. A bunny took out half of the bean plants and the carrots were all tops. I felt a bit embarrassed about the hubris behind my idea of weighing my massive amounts of produce!
One day I was telling a friend about the creatures I meet in my garden. Chickadees, cardinals, and finches are regular visitors. I marvel at the spiders’ webs that appear in the fall—amazing concentric masterpieces, and the regular rabbit who has become less and less afraid of me. I find myself happy to share my raspberries with docile bumble bees, my zinnias with butterflies. My friend reflected back to me that this garden has produced much more than food. I agreed that it has been a place of peace and a place where God and I come together. This fall another gift lay at my feet—a volunteer pumpkin vine. It is now about 12 feet long and is producing one good sized pumpkin–another unexpected but very welcome visitor from our loving Creator. I began my garden with expectations of how God and I would bring forth fruit together, and I ended with the understanding that God and the garden were bringing forth peace, gratitude, and love in me.
Ruth Johnston is an ordained Mennonite chaplain who currently works as a hospice grief counselor in the Twin Cities. She grew up on a farm in southeast Iowa and now lives with her husband, ten-year-old son, and cat in South Minneapolis.
*by Eleanor Farjeon, from Morning Has Broken, Hymnal: A Worship Book.