There is nothing my father enjoyed more in the spring than a visit to the local nursery. There I
would watch him wander through aisles of colorful blooms and I could almost see the wheels of his brain spinning with wondrous plans for that summer’s garden.
He would carefully choose a variety of plants, some of which would begin blooming in spring and
others that would bloom later, ensuring that our yard had the beauty of flowers throughout the fall.
He was diligent in caring for his tender charges and when dahlias, geraniums and irises were in full bloom it was a glorious site. One of his favorite flowers was the portulaca, an amazing plant that would fill up his planting boxes with sunny, multicolored flowers. They seemed to proliferate even in the worst of conditions, a trait inherent in the plant, I would learn. But my father loved to take credit for lush growth, always with a twinkle in his eye.
He shared with me the story of the Irish pastor who decided to hire a gardener for the parish grounds, which had been completely overtaken with weeds and vines. From spring to summer the wiry old man worked diligently to restore the place. Then, one fine day, the pastor strolled out into the flower garden with a neighboring priest, anxious to show off the new creation.
Gesturing toward the many neatly trimmed bushes and plants burgeoning with flowers, the pastor said, "I praise the good Lord for all of his handiwork!"
Stepping out from behind a bush with clippers in his hand, the gardener quickly chastised the pastor, saying, "Don't you go giving all the credit to God. Just remember what this place looked like before I got here and God had it all to himself!"
The story still makes me laugh, but, having failed at a number of gardens, it also reminds me of what’s required of us as co-creators with God. A failed flower garden is one thing, but a failure to grow what is good and beautiful and fruitful in our relationships is another.
Imagine if we were to have the passion for growing our relationships as author Nathaniel Hawthorne expresses for growing a garden: “I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a row of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.”
This summer we planted portulacas in our flower boxes. We learned about their need for full sun and their shallow roots which don’t require an abundance of watering. My father would be proud of the results and I often imagine him sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, nurtured by my husband’s daily oversight.
I think my dad would especially like the additional, unexpected gift that came with caring for the gardens. Butterflies.
These delicate, winged, living works of art, in a variety of sizes and colors are daily visitors to the vibrant portulaca flowers.
I know there is a lesson in there somewhere.
“The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.” George Bernard Shaw