Grandfather’s Last Garden

Over the years since my grandfather’s death, I’ve sometimes wished I could have been there to harvest his last garden. After retirement, my grandfather became an avid vegetable gardener, supplying all the vegetables he and my grandmother would need for the coming year, plus many of the vegetables his extended family and neighbors needed all summer, too. He died one summer not long after planting his garden, and as the harvest season came on, the weeds grew and much of the fruit went unharvested. I remember hearing how my cousins went and gathered some of the produce, and I had wished I could have been there to help. On our summer visits as children, we had often helped in the harvest and preparation of the produce for canning and freezing. Hours of picking, sorting, cleaning, and blanching made for some great times.

In the end, my grandfather planted more than just vegetables in that garden. He also planted in his children and grandchildren a passion for planting and growing things. He planted a willingness to work hard and to enjoy working together. And though a man with a somewhat gruff demeanor, he planted a spirit of kindness and generosity in those who watched him quietly deliver boxes of produce around town.  He planted a sense of affirmation in his grandchildren as he found ways to include them in the work, despite its inefficiencies. He planted a sense of joy in seeing how our sweat and effort could mingle with the miracles of the Earthmaker to bring amazing gifts to share at the table. He planted a joy of heathly food and our value of a lively and bustling kitchen.

I now stand at a point in my life where I wonder whether the garden I planted this spring might be my last. As I look at that garden, I see in it many good things growing, along with some weeds. I see some plants that require a good bit of painful pruning each year—the blackberries in particular. My hope is that I will continue to have opportunities to plant, but there is no guarantee. It makes me wonder if I’ve planted well enough in the lives of my children, my wife and other family members, my friends. And I worry that perhaps I have allowed weeds to be planted and not dealt with them quickly enough to keep them from spreading seeds that others will have to deal with. When I’m done, I want to leave a garden behind me growing with many good things and with limited liabilities.

The Hebrew Scriptures present a good bit of wisdom about good planting in the lives of those we love. One famous passage in this regard is known as the Shema, and it reminds us to plant the Scriptures in our own hearts and the hearts of the people close to us, sometimes leaving reminders around the house so we don’t forget the important things.

Listen, O Israel. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NLT)

Jesus identified this great command to love God above all else, along with loving our neighbors as ourselves, as the most important things to remember and live out. By planting these truths in the lives and hearts of our children and families, we can at least make a start at good planting. And as I think about it, this is some of what my grandfather accomplished through his garden.

Garden Tip: Plant for the people in your life, not just for yourself. In my early days a vegetable gardener, I often took a lot of space planting things that only I enjoyed eating. The result was always a lot of wasted produce. I’ve since learned to keep it simpler, planting mostly things that everyone in my life will enjoy. There is great joy to be found in sharing the garden’s gifts with others—a juicy, sweet tomato, some green beans and kale, or a basket of peaches. I’m sure that’s what my grandfather discovered, and I’m glad he passed it on to me.