Battles in the Garden

Watch that woman standing on the farmer’s porch. She pulls on her work jeans that still show patches of garden dirt. She sprays insect repellent on her work boots, arms, and neck. Next comes a mesh insect protection net that loops under her armpits and covers her entire head. With great precision, she dons her work gloves and picks up a garden fork. She is ready for war. Not just any war. She is ready for jungle warfare. Now comes an all-out attack on tangles of weeds that threaten to take over the garden.

You probably have guessed that I am that woman. My personal war on weeds was a response to the pandemic that engulfed our world, leaving us with feelings of helplessness. One dreary day in March, snow still covered the landscape. Lilac bushes were breaking under the weight of a late snowstorm that dumped a foot of snow. Suddenly, from the depths of my being came a desire, no, a need to rid the ground of weeds and plant a flower garden. Just the thought of brightly colored flowers warmed my heart.

I was transformed from a woman in despair to a woman on a mission. Once the snow disappeared, I discovered that weeds had taken over the hill in front of our house. Virginia Creepers had a sprawling underground network ready to drain all nutrients from the soil. The evil bindweed twined around delicate fruit saplings, choking out all life. I had a deep dislike for ditch lilies that can take over a garden, claiming territories like Napoleon on the march. Ah yes, the world was out of control, but I was eliminating insidious weeds one dig at a time.

Once the enemy was eliminated (I have taught my grandson that weeds are the enemy), I drove to the local garden store. At the entrance was a rack of paper packets filled with flower seeds, all with enchanting names. I bought with reckless abandon. Triumphant, I carried home Ruby Parfait Celosia, Pacific Beauty Mix Calendula and best of all, Cupcake Cosmos. My husband questioned these purchases.

“Were they on sale?” he asked.

“Nope,” I replied.

That ended the conversation. He sensed I was on a mission and dropped the subject.

After a few weeks, I began to question my motivations. After all, this was dirty, back-breaking work. It soon became apparent that I was more relaxed after working in the garden. Hope flickered as I dropped flower seeds in a little hole, sprinkled them with soil, and gave them a little pat.

I wondered. Does gardening reduce stress? One scientific test chose 30 gardeners to work the soil for 30 minutes. Cortisol (the stress hormone) was repeatedly measured. In a second test, the gardeners were asked to read a book for 30 minutes and told not to garden. Both reading and gardening reduced cortisol, but decreases were significantly stronger in the gardening group. Researchers concluded “positive moods were fully restored after gardening. These findings provide the first experimental evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress.”

What started as a war on weeds now became a war on stress. I reduced my intake of dire news stories. I increased my prayer time. I spent more time outside listening to bumble bees foraging among the apple blossoms. Earthworms made their silent appearance. I watched them wiggle in the moist topsoil.  Spring birdcalls filled the air. Chickadees, sparrows, and goldfinch visited the bird feeder. I sensed the harmony of nature and the hand of God, firmly in control.

I pulled a dandelion out by its roots and paused to reflect on my time in the garden. It is strange to think that digging deeply into the soil should make me feel more connected to God. Scientific tests do not mention the supreme, reasonable Person. He regulates the movement of stars and earthworms, all given through His unfailing love. Therein lies our peace.

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