The (Annual) Closing of the Garden

The last occasion involving the garden comes as a surprise every year; it is never scheduled. 

“The closing of the garden” is what I’ve come to call it in my mind: a sudden stillness, a quieting weight upon my chest, as I realize that the life of the annuals and the time of harvest are about to pass away. It rarely falls on the actual last day of cleanup, which keeps my hands busy plucking pale winter squashes and cutting vines dusted with powdery mildew into trash bags and pulling bamboo stakes up out of the ground. No, this moment usually arrives earlier, as it did in the first week of October this year, before the whisper of first frost swept over from the mountains. 

That day I stood on the third terrace wall, looking for reddening cherry tomatoes in the amber light of the late afternoon, and when I straightened up, I knew. Every movement after that became a prompt for remembrance and gratitude. 

I stepped down to the second level and thought back to a day in early summer. I had tried to guess which of the flowering bean plants would yield plain green beans and which would produce “gold rush” yellow beans. Their leaves were identical, but one had purple blossoms, and the other a simpler white. For some reason I thought that it would be quite like God to give the lavender hue to the more commonplace plant — reflective of a certain balance of beauty that I see distributed throughout His creation. The guess turned out to be correct, and all summer I smiled at Him every time I gathered those miniature tapers of green and gold into the garden basket. 

I tiptoed over the rambling vines of a single delicata plant, came up the slim aisle between the raised beds, and swept aside the floating drape of hail netting. 

This closing ceremony had no pomp and circumstance to it, only the same simple prayer that rises every year, as if it is etched into an unseen liturgical book of seasons. As my eye passed over the sweet clusters of sugar star phlox, the words came on their own: “Thank You.” Over the mounds of clover carpeting the lawn, thinking of how the children have loved the lush green: “Thank You.” Over the dried stalks of the blue wheat, which would be chopped up and tucked around the strawberry plants: “Thank You.” Look at what You have done, I added, letting my sight linger on one miraculous feature after another: Thank You. 

I am starting to suspect that those two words drop down as I utter them, judging from the effect that this little hidden garden has had on me. In their own way, these short utterances of gratitude have been falling by the dozen to the floor of this plot at the end of each summer, breaking down to nourish the fresh astonishment that comes in spring — altering the material not so much of the ground, but this gardener. “Fair seed-time had my soul,” Wordsworth wrote; this is the site of my own renewed seed-time, of amendment upon amendment, of the healing of my vision-range.

I walked up the two wooden steps to the back door, skirt pockets laden with tiny tomatoes and cucumbers, and I glanced back like a daughter wanting to be certain her father was still in view. This year the garden surpassed all our expectations. For a second I hesitated, wondering how and whether such a time would come around again. 

But as I slid the screen door open, the quiet words of a song I’ve never thought deeply about came unbidden to mind: “There will be enough tomorrow.” Tomorrow, with its own troubles and new mercies: He will be there too.

Some kind of surety overflowed my cup then. I never know what will come next under this roof or in this garden. But my Portion is great and boundless, sufficient and abundant: enough to warrant the scattering of a thousand tokens of anticipatory thanks. Not one is wasted or offered in vain.

It is late November now. The last snapdragon has finished blooming; the color that remains in the garden is ebbing by the day. The dried baby’s breath have rattled free from their roots and are scattered like tumbleweed along the fence. This season is closed to the work of sowing and harvesting, but it is the annual commencement of a deeper work of faith: one which is teaching me to trust that the weariness of dead things will be eclipsed by new joy, and to live out the truth that “care for the next minute is just as foolish as care for the morrow, or for a day in the next thousand years—in neither can we do anything, in both God is doing everything” (George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons). This is my season for yielding.

I can’t help but think how fitting it is that it should begin with Thanksgiving.

Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock,
There’s more than we see

In these patches of joy
These stretches of sorrow

There’s enough for today
There will be enough tomorrow. 

– Sara Groves, “Enough”

 

Autumn Garden, Sept. 2021

 

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