My first real attempt at gardening was more than twenty years ago.
We had just built a little house in Knoxville and I bought trays and trays of annuals to brighten the curb by our mailbox. I also planted rosemary, thyme, basil and sage in primitive basket on the back porch. Those herbs smelled like summer and fall and Christmastime all at once and made me feel like I was home. The annuals were new to me.
The herbs planted up by the house were easy to tend. I snipped them and they grew back quickly. I made sauces and pesto like I had seen my mother and grandmothers make over the years. The flowers I planted away from the house by the mailbox were harder. I needed to learn to dig a hole too big, fill it with fertilized water, and tickle the roots so they would begin the process of spreading. And just after planting, I grudgingly learned to prune. I was taught that beheading all the blooms just after planting would yield more flowers: that by taking away the beautiful parts, all the energy could go to the roots.
The pruning seemed so mean.
The first week after I planted that little flower bed in Tennessee it looked as if I had a planted a bunch of spinach or wild weeds by our mailbox. I’m certain the neighbors questioned not only my green thumb, but my sanity. It was depressing really. I wanted flowers and color and texture and the smell of spring. And instead I had cut off all the beauty and threw all the petals in the trash in the hopes that new ones would grow.
I strolled out there every day after work to water that little patch by my mailbox and I watched closely. A few weeks into my study of the plants something miraculous began. Seemingly overnight hundreds of blooms scattered the front curb: snapdragons and daisies, petunias and creeping phlox. It was as if they all woke up at the same time. I stood back as the sun was just setting one day and admired the blanket of color. I was grateful that it was really true that taking away all the beautiful blooms initially had worked. My pruning had allowed the water and the nutrients to concentrate on the roots.
And it was really true: roots are where the strength to bloom is found.
All these years later, in the middle of February, I am snipping my backyard rose bushes and I grieve each stem a little bit~ dropping them one-by-one into a pile. Spring has come early this year and the tiny blooms are so beautiful. Their long, green limbs seem full of promise already
I still know that pruning brings deep roots and more blooms. But I still don’t like it.
I haul away two wheelbarrows of branches and then I sit next to the stripped rose bushes and grieve some things. I count the pruning I have seen in my life and in those that I love. So much has been taken away.
One stem: a career, gone. Another, a wayward child. My own cancer diagnosis in my twenties feels like a bloom that was cut off mid-beauty..
As I sit here I realize that I’ve learned a few things about the pruning moments in our lives. After all these years I’m different about the whole experience. I’m wiser. I’m trying to stop pretending the pruning makes sense in the moment. I’m trying to stop believing that when someone’s life has been pruned that I have an answer. Instead I’m trying harder to sit next to the petals of the loss with them and just let us feel hopeless and confused together.
Because sometimes our human hearts just need to look at the barrenness and grieve.. And sometimes there are no words or new buds, just thorns and pain.
I stand slowly, gardening shears in my gloved hand, to believe again, even with these roses, that the pruning is preparing. I believe that there are roots and new blooms I cannot see yet. I believe that the piles of beauty I hauled away will only make room for more.
I have to believe, that there is a promise in the pruning that anything that is lost is always found in HIM.
Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being SURE of what we hope for, and certain of what we cannot see.”