I’m feeling pretty good about my green thumb this year. My vegetable garden has done really well, especially the tomatoes. I also planted a border of red impatiens and chocolate coleus along the front of the house, and it looks fabulous. But it’s my funny little back porch flower garden that has caught my imagination.
A couple of years ago I carved out a little patch of dirt on the west side of the back porch for a small flower garden. It’s only about 16 feet wide and 4 to 5 feet deep—just big enough to put a little color in our backyard. The first year I didn’t get around to planting anything until it was too late for seeds, and by the time I got to the nursery, things were pretty much picked over. Needless to say, the results were nothing to write home about.
Last year, I tilled in a whole bunch of compost early in the season and then planted it with different kinds of sunflowers—tall ones in the back, shorter varieties in the front. Unlike the year before, I had more flowers than I knew what to do with. There were only two problems—first, the flowers in the back were so tall and top-heavy that we had to tie them up so they didn’t fall over and smash the shorter ones, and second, they attracted lots and lots of bees. Nobody got stung, fortunately, but Grandma was always a little nervous when the grandkids were playing on the back porch.
I wanted something different this year—an old fashioned flower garden. I mixed compost into the soil, again, then went seed shopping. I purchased two mixed-seed packets, one labeled as a “children’s garden,” a designation I never really figured out, and another that was supposed to be a mix of flowers that were supposed to attract butterflies. After I got the soil ready but before I planted the seeds, I decided to hedge my bet, so I went to the nursery and picked up a few plants just in case the seeds didn’t grow. It was earlier in the season this time, so I had healthy plants to choose from this time. I picked up petunias, geraniums, moss rose, dahlias, and a couple of day lilies. Once I got the nursery flowers planted, I scattered the seeds I had purchased, lightly covered them with soil, watered, and began the waiting game.
It took awhile, but eventually I started seeing green shoots poking through the soil. I don’t know what it is about planting something from seed, but I looked forward to checking things out every day to see how much things had grown and if more plants were making an appearance. Because I had planted mixed seeds, I was never sure if what was coming up were weeds or plants, so I just let everything grow figuring I would sort things out later.
As the plants grew, I began recognizing some of them—first some baby’s breath, alyssum, and bachelor buttons. A little later the cosmos, zinnias, and a couple of sunflowers made their appearance. After awhile, the cosmos, zinnias, and sunflowers grew so tall they started crowding out the shorter flowers. Just a couple of weeks ago I realized I had some four-foot high marigolds growing. I don’t know if they were supposed to be that tall or if they were just competing with the zinnias and cosmos for sunshine, but they are kind of cool. I suppose I should have cut the taller flowers back, but I chose to just let things grow wild.
My old fashioned flower garden turned out to be a series of surprises. I never knew what was going to appear next. There were a couple of plants that I let get really big before deciding they were weeds and pulling them up. One of the prettiest flowers I grew was one I didn’t recognize. I’m hoping somebody out there can tell me what I was growing because I would like to have more of them next year. And what of the plants I bought at the nursery? I can see the petunias and dahlias if I go looking for them, but the geraniums disappeared a long time ago. Same thing for the moss rose. I’m not sure about the day lilies; since they’re perennials, I’m hoping they’ll come back next year.
My funny little flower garden reminds me of my life—I’m never quite sure what to expect. I’d like my life to be like the borders along my front yard—orderly and controlled. However, it seems that most plans I make, like the nursery plants I placed in my back porch garden, get lost in the unexpected and unanticipated experiences that fill my life. Occasionally those experiences turn out to be weeds. Unfortunately, I sometimes don’t realize their true nature until they are established, and then I have to work to pull them out by the roots. Other times my experiences are unlike anything I ever imagined and completely surprise me with their beauty. These are usually spiritual experiences that are difficult, if not impossible, to adequately describe in words. Sometimes my experiences, like my marigolds, have to fight to the top before I realize that they are a part of my life’s garden.
There is one big difference between my life and my flower garden—the gardener. I’m afraid I have been a rather irresponsible gardener when it comes to my back porch flower garden. While I was careful to fertilize and dead-head the impatiens in my front yard in order for the flowers to reach their full potential, I let the back porch garden do whatever it wanted without any effort on my part to refine it. The Lord is a much more conscientious gardener. Even though it often seems like my life is as out of control as my flower patch, that really isn’t the case because I know the Lord is in charge. He sometimes allows weeds to grow in my life so I can learn for myself what kinds of things I want or don’t want growing in the garden of my heart and mind. Sometimes he allows me to plant seeds that he knows won’t produce as promised. Those seeds that were supposed to attract butterflies? Nope—at least not when I was looking. And unlike me, the Lord cuts back and trims where necessary so I can benefit from the differing manifestations of every experience in my garden of life, whether they are obvious or hidden.
This summer has been a season of both old and new experiences—some really hard and some pleasant. If I learn from these experiences, I will be able to create even more beautiful and enjoyable earthly and heavenly gardens in the future. And that’s the most important thing of all—that we learn.