ERROL CASTENS: Gardening defines, measures, shapes us

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Some people garden with a checkbook: They buy tomatoes, lettuce, asparagus and sweet corn with no thought to whether it’s February or July. They hire someone to trim their shrubs and mow their lawn and haul off the residue.
For such folks, the seasons are reduced, I suspect, to allergy, man-it’s-hot, football and man-it’s-cold.
For some, though, gardening means appreciating the balance of acid and sugar that defines a midsummer Brandy-wine, or snapping off a fat eight-inch spear of Martha Washington and savoring its earthy charm right there, or seeing the first rose of spring before it opens.
Gardening is even more than sensual sustenance or secret collusion with nature. It’s one way we discover and measure and discipline ourselves.
It teaches us timeliness – one doesn’t plant pumpkins in August and hope for a harvest – and yet to have patience as well, often by the schoolmaster of late frost.
Gardening reminds us of the “total depravity” of Reformed theology. A generously offered and graciously accepted load of horse manure that yields an enduring legacy of nutsedge reinforces that impurity indeed touches even the most innocent of human acts.
“I always think of my sins when I weed,” Helen Rutherfurd Ely said. “They grow apace in the same way and are harder still to get rid of.”
Gardeners become resourceful. Raised beds give an edge in a wet year, and cisterns keep vegetables alive during a dry one. We learn from caterpillars that real problems are best addressed when small, and from mold on crepe myrtles we learn that some problems are mere misperception.
Gardeners learn of mortality and immortality. We expect the oaks and maples we plant to outlast our grandchildren, but many an 80-years-gone ancestor also waves from the grave with durable daffodils.
“An established plant becomes an heirloom,” said Elizabeth Lawrence, “for in all likelihood it will outlive the gardener who plants it.”
Little boys may think stolen melons taste sweeter, but old gardeners know generosity enhances enjoyment, whether of food or of view.
“It is unchristian to hedge from the sight of others the beauties of nature which it has been our good fortune to create or secure,” Frank J. Scott said.
In composting, “waste” of all sorts – spoiled food, moldy hay, cast-off leaves and the vines of a spent crop – turns into a microbiological magic mixture that gives life in abundance. It thus illustrates that nothing need ever be truly wasted, physically or spiritually.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Contact Daily Journal Oxford reporter ERROL CASTENS at

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