One year ago, the man I was dating planted a vegetable garden in my backyard.
Four raised beds of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, and carrots surrounded a square bed filled with herbs. Resting on evenly layered mulch, little Eden caught eyes and tickled noses around the neighborhood.
I gathered recipes and prepared to cook the fruits of “our” labors. But what really thrilled me was learning about gardening from him. He was going to teach me what to prune, when to harvest, and how to turn my two brown thumbs green.
Gardening lessons ended with the relationship.
We tried to share joint custody of the garden. He would come to the house while I was at work, tidy the beds, and leave produce by my back door. With time, our contact went the way of many break ups. The carport became bare of vegetables. The tomato vines grew. His truck’s tire marks disappeared from the driveway.
I was now the sole caretaker of a garden, and I didn’t know how to take care of a garden.
Damn it, I told myself. I would tend that garden on my own. Eden would live on. How difficult could it be?
I gathered information from books and online. Early every morning, I’d inspect each plant and turn on the sprinkler. I watched weather reports. I spent hours trimming and gathering and weeding and tasting.
People would ask me how the garden was doing, and I would tell only half of the truth. I’d say that it was fine, beautiful, blooming, and fun. To the naked eye, all of those abstract adjectives were appropriate. But underneath the bright greens and deep purples and fiery reds were weary roots. No matter how hard I tried to turn gardening into my hobby, it wasn’t. No matter how tirelessly I cared for Eden, I still felt banished from its life-giving joy.
The garden may have been flourishing, but this gardener was not.
I called a friend. Over cups of coffee, I confessed to her that I didn’t enjoy the garden. I told her how tired I was of the overflow of cucumbers and the collapsing tomato cages. I dreaded the time I “had” to spend there.
“Let it go.”
Her voice was soft but confident. I leaned forward.
“Let the garden go and grow.”
I started to protest. How could I let go of something into which I’d invested so much time? How could I walk away from something that I had wanted so desperately to prosper?
I knew she was right. Underneath the rapid thoughts was my desire for permission to let the garden—and him—go and grow.
I did not go to the garden that day. I did not go the next day either. I’d catch a glimpse of it from the kitchen window and walk away. I offered its fruits to anyone who was willing to walk in the yard and take them.
I slowly gave the hours spent in the garden to new priorities. I worked. I practiced yoga. I wrote. I began studying wine tasting & food pairing. I prayed. I lived.
Eventually the temperatures dropped, and the brown leaves fell. I traveled to the west coast to visit my sister and her family. As my niece entertained me with the song, “Let It Go,” from Frozen, my mind returned to a back yard in Mississippi and the words of a friend. By the time I returned, the first frost of an early winter had bitten all the garden’s fruit. Ice and snow soon encased each bed in sheets of cold.
I found out about a teenager with a budding interest in gardening and arranged for her parents to “pick up” the garden. They spent a cold, rainy December morning digging up the soil and hauling off the beds. When they left, all that remained of a past Eden was one big, muddy rectangle.
Spring finally arrived, the ground dried out, and a few green weeds peeked through the empty plot. Blades of grass soon joined them. Before long, green outgrew the brown. When I would look out the kitchen window, I no longer saw what was missing. I saw what was present.
I was outlining a yoga class when the garden’s new owners walked into my office. The teenage girl described to me the flowers, carrots, potatoes, radishes, and herbs they were growing. Her mother told me how two of the beds were helping with an erosion problem.
“Did you know that we’re using the same soil?” the mother asked.
“No. Is it still any good?” I replied.
“Yeah, it’s very good soil. We’re still using almost all of it.”
Other seed fell into good soil and bore fruit. Upon growing and increasing, the seed produced in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of one hundred to one. (Mark 4:8, Common English Bible)
Sometimes we have to let one garden go in order for a new one to grow.
Sometimes the soil with which we struggle simply needs different hands to dig through it.
Sometimes the harvest is not ours to create.
After the mother and daughter left the office, I drove to the coffee shop. I filled my mug with half dark roast and half decaf. I opened my laptop and started typing. I looked out the window at some large pots filled with white and purple flowers.
I thought briefly about trying to plant something similar in my yard.
I let the thought go.
My non-green thumbs went back to pounding the keys. Black font filled the white page – first quickly, then slowly, then steadily. Thoughts turned to words. Words turned to sentences. Sentences turned to stories about a God who makes all good things grow.
I moved the cursor across the screen and clicked “save.”
all good things to each of you,
Read more from Darian Duckworth at her blog.