“I Come to the Garden” but Not Alone

I was sitting out on the patio on a recent evening and enjoying some quiet time. It was almost cool, by which I mean that it was mercifully less than 100.

I’ve got some plants out there that seem to be doing well—considering the oppressive heat and drought. A couple of Mandevilla plants are blooming nicely. A pomegranate plant (believe it or not) is filling in well. Not sure yet what it will need to really bloom, but I need to do some research. I’ve got two or three hibiscus plants (a couple of them out front) that have bravely bloomed some this season in the midst of the scorching heat.

Ah, and I like my night-blooming Cereus plants (from cuttings tracing back to my Granddaddy Key’s plant). A bloom or two early in the season and no more attempts. Their amazing blooms open and close and fill the air with fragrance for one night each. Literally as I write, my brother in Amarillo is staying up to watch several of those blooms on his plants (from cuttings of mine from cuttings of his from cuttings of Granddaddy’s) “pop” on the same night. And he’s got six or seven more shaping up for a few days later. Wow!

When I’m sitting out back and enjoying plants, or doing anything plant-related, I think of my mom. Mom was a plant artist who could grow almost anything. Her mother was, too. Growing up in Robert Lee, Texas, meant not having an intensely fertile “canvas” for plant artists, but Grandmother Key and my mother worked with what they had. Grandmother had a beautiful yard. She loved cacti, and she was always on the lookout for little hollowed out rocks she could use as pots for a wee cactus or a few. When my brothers and I go to the old homeplace there, I sometimes find rocks that I know Grandmother had stockpiled for cactus planters. Looking at the yard, I feel like I should apologize to her. That yard has fallen on hard times, but, amazingly, a few of the plants (and offspring) she started are still there. Very few.

I remember Mom spending lots of hours working in our yard in Amarillo. She did a great job with what she had, and she taught her children how to use a grubbing hoe (her favorite implement) and not to worry about getting dirt under fingernails.

In 1975, when Mom & Dad moved to South Houston, well, that was quite a move. But Mom was rewarded with a canvas worthy of her impressive talents. Say what you will about the “swampiness” and oppressive humidity of that area, the very conditions that make human life tough there make it a plant paradise. I can’t even begin to describe the horticultural beauty she helped foster and lovingly tended in that back yard. I can’t imagine the number of hours she spent out there, but, yes, the yard was gorgeous.

When my mom got sick in 1991, it was obvious that her yard work days would soon be over. I never was sure whether it was the brain tumor or the treatment for the brain tumor that finally killed her in January 1992, but either the tumor or the treatment effectively took her mind away almost from the moment of the diagnosis. That was, by the way, my first experience with hospice care. I’ll never second-guess the decision my folks made to try the chemo and radiation, but for this type of cancer, opting for hospice much sooner would have been much better as the traditional options of slash, burn, or poison were not, barring a miracle, going to be anything but a lengthening of an already terribly trying time.

What I did quickly was to take my camera to Mom’s back yard and get to work on a small attempt at a photo record of that beautiful showplace. I knew that, before long, that once wondrous fertile place would metastasize into uncontrolled chaos, effectively consuming itself and passing away.

I’m not the kind of gardener Mom was, but I do like to watch plants grow, thrive, and bloom. It makes me sad when I drive by a house where a wonderful steward of that lawn/garden lived for years and fostered the beauty—and then was gone. “Look at those flowers!” I used to say. Now, I try not to look. Or I’d look at Mr. So-and-so’s Bermuda grass and know that, if it still looked sickly, it was not yet time for mine to even begin to try to shine. And then he’s gone. And so, too soon, is that verdant beauty.

“You know, dear, you make the same comments every time we pass those yards,” my wife says. “I know,” I reply, “but it just makes me sad.”

But it also brings some perspective. If you love to work with God in growing that sort of green and brilliant beauty, do that with joy. Just remember that the relationships and ties of love that you nurture with humans will last a lot longer and outlive you when you’re gone.

And a little perspective also says that, if you know your Father, you know that nothing is more like him than to surprise you one eternal day with a re-emergence and multiplied magnificence of the garden beauty that you thought was lost and gone forever.

No, our God is never done with nurturing genuine beauty. The real thing is never lost forever.


You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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