The medievals spoke of the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature, both offering knowledge of God. Even within Scripture, men read from the Book of Nature: Adam naming the animals, Isaiah describing salvation as a desert in bloom, and Jesus observing the lilies of the field. In this spirit, I’ve gathered a few reflections from a few years of gardening.
Lessons From The Garden
1) Nature is useful. Flowers have color, which attracts insects to pollinate them, which produces fruit, whose sweetness draws animals to eat it, so that the seeds are digested and deposited elsewhere, so that a new plant can grow. But God was thoughtful enough to make a useful process both beautiful and good for our sake. Flowers not only serve as insect runways, but they adorn our table, our tuxedos, and our hair. Fruit belongs not only to deer, but in lunchboxes, in smoothies, and in cobblers. “For all things are yours” (1 Cor 3:21).
2) Rose bushes, grape vines, apple trees all want too much. If left untended, they will grow too many shoots. Not enough water and sugar for all produces dried rose buds, sour grapes, and small apples. To be fruitful, they need to be pruned, as do we. The Lord giveth and taketh away, so that we’re fruitful in one life pursuit, not struggling under ten. “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).
3) Gardenias are popular for repeat blooms, all the flowers dying one week, so that a new generation blooms the next week. Some die that others may live. It’s not merely a lesson in mortality—one human generation to the next—but a spiritual lesson: we move on from certain friends, or jobs, or ministries, so that others can contribute while God leads us into a new chapter. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:19).
4) Life loves to live. I recently cut down a small maple tree after it was snapped in half by a summer storm. Soon, a new sapling sprouted from the stump. God is a living God, and this is his mark on all of life, making small icons of eternity. “In you is the source of life” (Ps 36:10).
5) Variety is itself astounding. From trees with their armored bark, to herbs and their strange scents, God reveals the richness of his artistic thought. “Lord, how great are your works! How deep are your designs!” (Ps 92:6).
6) Flowers can endure the full heat of the day, but should be watered at dusk or dawn, lest they go into shock. God also allows us to endure trials, that he may refresh us when their sun has set. “He satisfies the thirsty soul” (Ps 107:9).
7) I’m surprised by the details I discover while working: spider webs, trails of ants, or bees in a petal bathtub rolling in pollen. Unlike our weak perception, God is present to every detail, to the world and to the world within, our hearts. “Before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to his eyes” (Heb 4:13).
8) I once watched wind stir every inch of a tree, and thought, “I could never do that.” God is powerful. Another time, I spent a week waking up at 5 a.m. to water a new garden, then one afternoon a storm rolled in and drenched everything in 5 minutes. “And he awoke and rebuked the wind… and there was a great calm” (Mk 4:39).
9) Nature shows signs of good or poor health. Brown leaves in autumn mean a tree doesn’t have enough sugar, which is indicated by red leaves. It’s like our faces, which can’t hide happiness or sorrow, so that we can anticipate each other’s needs. “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2).
10) At the end of the day, working with the earth brings a peculiar peace. It’s something every man was made to feel. “God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Irises – Flowers of the Holy Trinity (used with permission)