I don’t know about you, but each year as we approach the summer season, my mind is flooded with memories of summers gone by, of hot sunny days, of warm nights, of beaches and swimming and sailing in my family’s little sunfish and, perhaps my strongest memories are of gardens and farms. When in high school I spend my summers working on a farm, market gardening only – no animals, save for the owners three legged dog (a victim of a farming accident) and these were days and times that I will always remember – the clear blue skies, the smell of the earth, the heat of the sun, the cool of a sudden rain shower, the amazingly good taste of my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and my thermos of red Kool-Aid.
Whether we ever worked on a farm or not, most of us will have some memories of gardens and gardening. I have wonderful memories of my grandfather’s backyard garden. I have few memories of his house, as I was just five years old when my grandmother died and my grandfather moved in with us, but the garden made a lasting impression on me. I think it must have been the raspberries. I love raspberries and he let me wander in among the bushes and pick and eat to my heart’s content. In hindsight, I suspect that this is pretty close to what a four year old child’s version of heaven might be!
My grandfather was what we might call a gentleman farmer. He grew up learning the harness-making trade from his father, but with the advent of the automobile,the harness business faltered and he moved into the men’s clothing trade, selling work and dress clothes alike, from a small storefront on Brant Street in downtown Burlington. Being in the business, my grandfather always wore a suit. Being a practical individual who had lived through the depression he owned three suits – one for church and special occasions, one for work at the store, and one for gardening and housework. When the gardening one wore out he would buy a new special occasion one and the others would each move a step down the ladder. He believed that it was reasonable to own four dress shirts, two white and two blue. Even though he was in the business, I can remember him wondering why anyone would need more clothing than this. It’s hard not to reflect on the fact that this is a question that my generation would rarely, if ever, ask, because for many of us today, as the television ads regularly remind us, “more is better”; they’d like us to believe it’s that simple an equation!
My granddad gardened well into his eighties and spent many peaceful and contented hours enjoying the quiet of nature as he cultivated and pruned and watered the various plants, casually dressed (by his standards) in a three piece suit, open collar shirtand fedora hat (he would, on occasion and at my mother’s suggestion, switch out the suit coat for a navy cardigan).
My father-in-law grew up on a farm outside London Ontario and although he left the farm in his late teens to work in the farming equipment industry, the farm never really left him. He has always had a large; perhaps one might call it oversized garden in his city backyard. He too loves gardening and regularly grows far more vegetables than any one family can reasonably preserve or consume, and so each year the neighbours benefit greatly from the bounty of his harvest.
Not being fully satisfied with just one type of crop, my father-in-law grows more than veggies alone; there are flowering shrubs and trees too – maple and chestnut seem to be a speciality of sorts. For most of us, when we have a guest for dinner we might expect them to bring a bottle of wine or perhaps a bouquet of fresh flowers, but my father-in-law is more likely to show up with a couple of Rose of Sharon bushes, a five foot tree and a bag of rhubarb!
I’m looking out my office window this morning at a sturdy, healthy new chestnut tree in the middle of our back yard. I planted it just a few days ago after having had my in-laws for dinner. You know, lots of folks tell me that they don’t really like chestnut trees – they say that they are messy and dirty and to some extent that may be true, but I have a lot of really good memories associated with these trees and so I’m really glad to have a new one. As a child I liked to collect chestnuts from the farm across the road from our family cottage and I dutifully took them home and planted them, and over the years I can proudly take responsibility for several beautiful big chestnut trees now gracing various yards in Burlington’s downtown core.
Like my grandfather and my father-in-law, I also like to garden. I find it relaxing and it fills me with a certain calm and peace as I work the ground and dirty my hands in the rich, dark earth.
As I think about these things, I am reminded that God is the original farmer and that this entire created world is indeed God’s garden, and what a beautiful, rich and abundant garden it is – its bounty lies beyond imagination! The Bible reminds us, in both Genesis and the Psalms that we are called to be the stewards of the earth – caretakers of God’s amazing and bountiful garden. How we nurture, care for and share the produce of this garden is a sure measure of our faith and our will to be the people God calls us to be, through the teachings and love of Jesus Christ.
Over the weeks of summer that lie ahead, as we enjoy the warmth and beauty of the season, let us also remember to tend the various gardens of our lives, not only our backyard and balcony gardens, but the gardens of relationships and the gardens of our hearts, let us nurture and feed, cultivate and prune with compassion, forgiveness, hope and love, and let us share generously from the bounty of the harvest.
Wishing you all of the blessings of the summer season,