The garden’s many gifts

My own experience with gardening began with demolition and disappointment. 

A few summers ago, our landlords decided to tear up our front yard in order to create space for some much-needed parking spots. Hired workers came to cut down a tree (removing the shade for our front porch), pull out bushes (exposing our bottom-level windows) and dig out patches of the lawn (baring our house for all to see). 

While we understood the need for this landscaping change, our family was sad about losing the little yard that held memories of wiffle ball games, Easter egg hunts and hidden sunbathing. What was left in the process was a gravel-filled parking area lined by brick-laid garden beds, exposed for all our neighbors and passers-by to see. 

What I failed to realize was the possibility looming within this blank slate. 

When we came to the first spring with our new landscape, our landlords graciously asked if our family had ideas for what should be planted in the new garden beds. They also inquired if we would like to do the planting ourselves, or if they should take responsibility. I cautiously (dare I say optimistically?) said we wanted to give it a try. 

So I had a few conversations with friends who gardened and took my kids to pick out sunflower seeds and “rescue” flowers (i.e. plants on clearance) at the local hardware store. Our landlord filled the area with soil and installed an irrigation system. We planted and watered and waited. 

It’s been three seasons since this journey began, and the garden beds have become my new sacred space. A place of beauty and stillness and peace as I sit on our front porch swing. A welcome distraction to be out in the sun and get my hands dirty during the past few years of virus talk and quarantine. 

The garden beds have also provided meaningful connections. There have been conversations with neighbors and long-distance phone chats with my parents on how to best nurture the plants and flowers we have growing.

And with every passing season, the beds reflect the growing tapestry of relationships in my life. There are wildflowers and tulips and purple Allium bursting from seeds and bulbs given by friends who noticed my enjoyment of this newfound hobby. Brightly-colored annuals and mammoth sunflowers selected by my children. Rosh bushes gifted from co-workers. Yellow daylilies split from my sister’s yard but originally transplanted from my parents’ Midwest garden. 

And it is one big, breathtakingly-beautiful gift.

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When I first heard that Christie Purifoy was planning to release a book with photography, I will admit that I was a bit skeptical. 

This creeping fear had nothing to do with the author’s photography, as I’ve seen evidence of her artful perspective and skill on her Instagram page. It’s just that I love her writing style so much that I feared it would be diminished by having to share the space with pictures. 

My worries were totally unfounded. 

Her newest project, Garden Maker: Growing a Life of Wonder and Beauty with Flowers, released this past week, and in it Purifoy proves that she is just as fabulous behind a photo lens as she is with a pen.

Purifoy’s book makes no promises that our flowers will always bloom or that the weather will cooperate or that each season will yield the results we had hoped for. As she stated, “Garden parties are like gardens in this way. A great deal of effort is required. Outcomes are anything but guaranteed.” 

I’ve found the experience of planting seeds and tending to the soil and allowing Mother Nature to do her work has added insight to the ordinary happenings in my daily life. It’s encouraged me to develop a boldness to put my own creative work out into the world, to take risks while loosening my grip on the end results.

And what is garden making but a grand exercise of faith? It’s taking risks to dare and dream, to plan and plant, realizing the outcome is fully outside our realm of control. 

Purifoy offers hope that the undertaking of the garden is worth it. Her project has provided further inspiration to become the best possible curator of beauty on the land I’m privileged to care for.

As she so profoundly stated in Garden Maker, “The gardener must see what was, what is, and what will be. And every garden–whether it lives on graph paper or has already begun to spread its roots–is a promise of something more yet to come.”

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