Planting A Life: How Keeping A Garden is Good for the Soul (February)

By Rev. Judith Laxer

I don’t know if the groundhog saw his shadow or not, but to anyone who is paying attention, Spring has arrived. Green shoots are emerging from soggy soil. Buds are forming on awakening trees. Pink primrose peeks through last year’s dead leaves, and dependable dandelion returns to the surface of the Earth. We may have more Wintery weather ahead, but there can be no mistake; here in the northwest Spring has sprung.

We are not fooled. Cold rain will continue for months yet. But that won’t stop us from getting out into the garden anyway. We will simply be circumspect and choose our activities wisely.

Early February is the time to prune the rose bushes. My heart is always a bit hesitant to employ the clippers even though my head knows it is necessary for future flowering. Articles in garden magazines tell us that ‘roses like to be punished’ and that ‘once punished, they repent with an extraordinary show of beauty!’ That is to say that the more ruthless you are in pruning them, the more blossoms they will yield this growing season.

At first it is not so bad. Find the obvious dead branches and cut them away. Next, it’s a pretty safe bet to clip the shriveled rose hips on their stems back down to the branch from which they dangle. What follows gets tricky. I am uneasy playing God, choosing which branches will live and which will die. Even all the while knowing that taking the entire plant down by at least half is the right way to go. It feels brutal. Murderous. I recoil from playing this apparently angry and cold blooded God.

Sever on an angle. Take away branches that cross and touch. Try to find ‘knuckles’ and cut just above them. Strip away any leaves with spots. Take charge! Be bold! Remind yourself repeatedly that Rose likes it. She needs it! She wants to bloom for you and last years’ growth inhibits her. Each slice sends a signal to the plant- wake up and make up for all I am cleaving away. I don’t know how, but it works. Ow! Her bite lets me know: message received! And pay attention!

As I pull her barbed briar out of my finger, it causes me to ponder. Although punishment and repentance hardly seem like gardening terms, and in general I don’t care for either of them, am I so different than the rose? I don’t know if I’d call it repentance necessarily, but hasn’t my soul flowered with grace as a result of enduring harsh treatment along the way? Haven’t my greatest gifts emerged out of my most painful cuts? Didn’t being taken down by something ruthless and sharp cause me to come back stronger and wiser? Doesn’t my most profound healing come from my deepest wounds? My preference would be not to have suffered so, and yet the result of life’s acerbic clippers has made me who I am today; a woman who loves life more fiercely with each passing season. A woman who wants, with all her might and main, to bloom again and again until she is very old.

The eldest rose bush in my garden was here when I moved in ten years ago. Who knows how long she has graced this little plot of land before I got here. She is an old fashioned red American Beauty. Her roses emit a deep, rich, splendid scent that makes me swoon and grunt appreciatively every time I bury my nose in her velvet petals. I respect my elders so I find myself less rigorous when pruning her. If I get to play God, then I choose to limit my use of garden shears on this one. I make each snip with gratitude for her magnificence, for all the beauty she has offered over the years. I have learned to embrace even her thorns.

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