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The planet may be warming, the seas may be rising, and my nearest theater showing Al Gore’s apocalyptic and self-described “nature walk through the Book of Revelation.” But here in my 0.95 acre of the world the summer has been dreamlike.
Regular rainfall from spring on has softened several years’ worth of drought conditions. Trees I didn’t know could flower burst forth. Dirt I’d given up clawing suddenly gave way. “Spring” greens lingered past the Fourth of July, and tomatoes came early. For those of you expecting me to gripe in this annual garden column, remember the only thing consistent in life is change.
Better still, this year we turned a sunny patch of lawn into a community garden of sorts, my neighbor and I starting flower seeds in flats in winter that grew into 342 plants we set out in spring. Gardening with six people is so much better than one: Two plowed, three planted, and one cleaned up after us plus brought drinks. This all began in a season of national discord (that continues), and I can’t say enough about the value of getting dirty and sweaty with people of many persuasions on your street.
The bounty on our north lawn, like Iowa corn and Kansas wheat, waits in willing surrender, wanting to be cut.
Which brings me to the harvest. Buoyed by sunny days interspersed with gentle rains, the blooms appeared before we were ready. And beyond our wildest expectations, nearly everything survived and thrived.
We’ve made dozens of bouquets, and our resident 8-year-old sold them from a little cart at the street corner. After each successful Saturday flower sale, she insists on bringing me a cut of the proceeds. We’ve given handfuls of flowers to neighbors walking dogs and friends helping with weddings. We’ve taken them to the sick and the grieving, helpful office mates, faraway family. We can’t keep up.
What the fruit of our labors needs most, it turns out, is a steady pruning. The bounty on our north lawn, like Iowa corn and Kansas wheat, waits in willing surrender, wanting to be cut. Severing it from its lifegiving plant and giving it away turns out the best way to multiply a harvest.
We need pruning too. The branch that bears fruit, says the Gospel writer John, is the one God prunes, “that it may bear more fruit.” A mediocre harvest is never God’s goal, in the garden or in our lives. Do you sometimes feel you are working and working, just to have the fruits of your labor taken away? I do, but in reality it’s more often God lopping off my good for His better.
I went away for several days on business travel, and my neighbor left for vacation. When I returned, our bountiful flower beds had turned leggy and weak-looking, more spent blossoms than new buds. Deadheading from the top and shearing off blooming stalks from the middle brought them back to life again.
Pruning doesn’t happen with brute force. It’s an acquired skill requiring varied techniques and tools. The experts know one stand of trees needs to be pollarded, or cut halfway down; another coppiced, repeatedly shorn to the ground; and yet another thinned only from the crown to improve its ability to withstand wind and storms.
How much we need the careful pruning that comes from above, and how much we need to be thoughtful pruners ourselves. When the people beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4), they don’t cease to work for the greater good, they exchange one set of tools for improved ones.
Tertullian writes of the passage: “They shall change into pursuits of moderation and peace the dispositions of injurious minds, and hostile tongues, and all kinds of evil, and blasphemy.” They shall also cease from “the provocation of hostilities,” he says, because “Christ is promised not as powerful in war, but pursuing peace.”
Here in these latter days of harvest, flowers die quickly in the heat, and I’m spending time daily cutting back in hopes of a more glorious flush. The beds need steady and skilled hands, and so our evil world. Not chainsaws and words like swords, but people who no matter the tangle of culture and overgrown, out-of-control politics are laboring for a better harvest.