A few weeks ago, we planted a garden, our first as a married couple and long overdue. My husband’s gardening genes run deep, and when I first met him, he was working for a nursery (of the landscaping kind, not the children kind). Our previous homes have been apartments or rentals plus who had the time when the kids were still babies and toddlers and he was in seminary?
A garden seemed like too much, a far-off dream. Someday.
But the home we have now, also a rental, has space for such dreams, more if we wanted it, but we decided to start small. My parents and grandparents gave me birthday money to buy plants, so on the first available day, before we missed the planting window, we headed across the street to the home improvement store’s garden center and bought the tools we needed and the plants we wanted.
All dreams start with an investment of money and time, and my husband spent the better part of what was left of the day clearing out the mess that our house’s landscaping had become. To say it had been neglected would be putting it politely. We have lived here two years and our occasional pruning and raking has been a start but not nearly enough.
He pulled up the black lanscaping paper that had been buried and torn and was far from pretty. He broke up the rocky soil and the clay, turning it over and over until the black dirt appeared. He added some soil we’d purchased. He stirred and softened and patted it down until the area was almost unrecognizable under his tending.
We plotted the position of our plants and as a family took turns watering and digging and placing the plants in their spots.
Three tomato plants.
Four pepper plants.
A cucumber plant.
Basil and rosemary in a pot on the porch.
Not much, but it’s a start, and whatever the dream we all have to start somewhere.
Eight years ago today, Phil and I planted a garden, we just didn’t know it at the time.
We called it the start of a marriage but the analogy is not lost on me that a marriage needs tending as much as a garden.
As he cleared out the weedy overgrown mess, my husband discovered some buried and unproductive bulbs. Tulips, possibly. We saw two bloom this year that we didn’t see last year, so maybe they just need some love.
I found new homes for them, and even though I haven’t a clue if I’m doing them any good, I dug holes and buried them again. Perhaps we will see some blooms next spring?
The kids have acquired some flower seeds from various sources, so we prepared some beds and poked holes in the dirt, dropped in a few seeds, covered them over and watered them.
The next morning they wondered if we’d see any sign of growth yet and I told them it would be weeks for the flowers, months yet until the plants produce food we can eat.
Gardening is planting a promise, an invitation to wait for a good thing to come.
Holy ground, this dirt.
Marriage, too, is the planting of a promise. On the day we say “I do,” what we mean, even if we don’t know it, is that we’re planning to wait around for the good stuff to come.
If a garden starts with the gift of money, the shopping at the garden center, then a marriage starts with a wedding celebration, an infusion of love and joy for the thing we’re about to do.
But we don’t know, at least I didn’t, that after the high of the wedding day comes the hard work. The clearing out of the weedy overgrowth of selfishness and individualism that runs wild in our hearts when left to ourselves. There’s a careful tending of this new living thing, a marriage. At times it is like a seed buried beneath the dirt, dark and dormant yet somehow alive, vulnerable to wind and flooding rains and birds looking for a treat.
Other times it is like a plant transferred from the greenhouse to the ground, leaving an environment of relative safety for one with unknown challenges, an uncertain future.
Part of what has kept me from gardening in the past is the fear that we’ll fail at it. That we’ll have wasted our money and killed a plant that was meant to be life and give food. Fear keeps me from trying something at which I may not succeed.
I entered marriage thinking that success was the only outcome and I wouldn’t have to work at it. I didn’t know that we were leaving the greenhouse to be exposed to the elements of nature, vulnerable to pests and disease.
Planting a garden has made me feel like the mother of a newborn again. Did they survive the night?, I thought on that first morning, with my babes and with our plants.
With marriage, it’s been a bit trickier to measure “success.” We survived the first night, the first week, the first year, but surviving is not the same as thriving.
Eight years we have been in care of this garden, our marriage, and only in the most recent years have we really put in the work it takes to make it grow. We have each dug up tangled roots that have choked the life out of us, and we are more aware of the constant need to weed them from our lives. We take more care to water the garden and bring it into the life-giving light.
And we acknowledge that there are dangers, no matter how friendly they might appear. (Bunnies are cute but their tendency to nibble on the greens is problematic.)
This work, in the garden, is not easy and sometimes there are a dozen things we’d rather be doing. Our muscles ache, and our skin bears the burns, but, oh the joy we’ll have when we’re able to bite into that first juicy tomato later in the summer.
This work, in our marriage, is not easy and sometimes there are a dozen things we’d rather be doing. Our hearts ache and we bear the scars where we’ve scorched each other with anger and bitterness and selfishness.
But oh the joy when we can taste the fruit of our labors. When we get a tiny glimpse of the growth that is happening. When we can see how the work has been worth it.
At the end of the summer, we will know how we fared, but next year, we will have to work the garden again. There is no easy path if we want to grow our own food.
With each year that passes, we can see how our marriage fares, but daily and weekly and yearly we have to work it. Again and again. Tearing out weeds, watering, protecting, nurturing. There is no easy path if we want our marriage to flourish.
We planted a garden.
We didn’t much know what we were doing.
We have made mistakes.
We have let the weeds overtake us.
We almost gave up on the garden ever producing fruit.
But we are finally, finally, taking small steps toward making this garden grow.