Tending the garden for something good to take root

Garlic mustard.

It’s a plant, and it’s no good. Invasive, actually: chokes out all the good flowers; trillium and spring beauties. “Bag as trash,” a sign at our park says. On our walks, we pull and we trash it, but it’s pretty impossible for three kids with varying attention spans and one adult to compete.

Everywhere I look now, I see it. It’s all along the roadside. I found some in our yard today. It’s in our woods.

Everywhere I look, I see garlic mustard. It’s just everywhere; it’s overwhelming. Even if you pull it at the root, little bits of it can grow back. Don’t turn your back! RUN for your LIVES.

Don’t panic: This really isn’t about weeds.

It’s everything not-right, garlic mustard: it’s the stuff in life that chokes out the good. It’s the stuff that mistakes itself for beauty and instead sucks life out of rich soil. It’s the stuff that won’t go away, that drains and takes and takes over. 

We’ve started our year committing to simplicity, hospitality and faith, and these three tenets make great banners, but unless we’re consistently watching what’s growing in our life, our woods, we could end up tending weeds.

Until you’ve walked next to someone who knows — “Hey, that’s garlic mustard. You’re gonna want to pull that out” — it’s hard to know.

It took asking what kind of garden I wanted to grow before I realized I was pulling blindly at what I thought were weeds, or keeping what I assumed were flowers.

When we walk the length of our neighbors’ driveway with her, she rattles off the names of her flowers like old friends, because they are. “Oh, the windflowers are back.” That doesn’t even sound real, I think.

“How do you know so much about these things?”

“I’ve just been working with them for so long,” she says. Like they told her their names. Experience makes us good gardeners.

But other gardeners make us better gardeners, too. As she teaches me flower names now, others are teaching me what simplicity looks like in their lives, or what radical trust looks like, or how these things are really intertwined.

And we’ve got to be talking to these people, because we’re wired to find the rut and stay in it. And by talking with these people, I mean in letters, emails and phone calls, and over tea.

Who are your garden tenders? Who knows weeds? Whose advice would you trust when you stumble on something blue and berry-like and she says “Yeah, that edible,” and you’re too deep in the woods to ask Google for a second opinion?

We’ve found a small collection of people whose lives point that way, and that’s an amazing act of accountability to share how we’re all in processThis is an act of garden-tending: we’re asking what to pull and what to water; what’s responsible and what’s hoarding. We’re celebrating and, most importantly, we’re praying about each other’s flowers and weeds.

But it’s more: I need more gardeners, more dreamers-turned-doers. I need to see illustrations of life springing up so when my patch is dry or weedy, I won’t panic.

This is more than a hokey illustration: it’s the beginning of feeling like the corner we turned when we moved to Michigan has led to something natural — that flowers, that has seeds, that travels and inspires enough to root and grow.

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