Gardening’s Gifts

Food, flowers, friendship, community
community members working in a garden
Author Melanie Heisuer Hills garden door

We’ve always had a garden—a space for tomato plants if nothing else, as homegrown tomatoes really have no substitute. When our children were small, we started tomato plants from seed so we could watch the magic happen up close right at the windowsill. The pale green lankiness that poked up out of the potting soil in those little paper cups was perhaps my first faith lesson in the garden. There have been many since.

Tending and being tended

When it was warm enough, we’d dig a small hole with our fingers in the 4×8 garden bed in the backyard and pat in those spindly seedlings that looked like they could not possibly survive the planting … only to have them sturdy-up in a matter of days. They’d grow like mad through the summer and deliver delicious tomatoes at the exact same time the large dark green husky plants bolstered by MiracleGro that the neighbors planted gave them their tomatoes. It was the talk of the neighborhood. How could it be that something so small and insignificant looking could grow like that? (And why did our tomatoes taste better?!)

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a 

mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though 

it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of 

garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and 

perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

Once the kids were done running around and playing soccer in the backyard, we dug up most of the grass, built a bunch of raised beds, fenced it all in, and hung a screen door with a reminder painted on it, to walk through each day. 

Now we grow our tomatoes in and around all sorts of vegetables and herbs and blooms. In the spring we tuck in vulnerable tiny seedlings and press in seeds that look like sand. It seems improbable, if not impossible, in May … but we consistently tend a jungle by July (with no MiracleGro at all!) The garden is its own miracle.

Bounty and beauty

It is a delight to cross the threshold into the garden as the screen door clatters behind me at the end of the day. I weed and water as I sort through my wonderings and worries. I pray as I delight in the blooms and possibilities, the vines heavy with fruit, the birds in the birdbath, the butterflies drinking deeply from the zinnias.

We share tomatoes and varieties of lettuce with neighbors and leave flowers on doorsteps. We’ve grown hot peppers for those who enjoy them, and we host small pizza dinners on the patio that overlooks our bit of Eden. The neighbor’s grandchild comes and digs for worms and picks flowers for her mom. We help the young family down the street start seeds and a small backyard garden. This might be what I enjoy the most—the sharing of the garden’s many fruits. I’m not just talking things to eat. Good soil and a little water plus the grace and mercy of bright sunshine yields not only a fruitful garden, but friendship, community, and a place to gather.

Communing and community

One of my favorite gardens to visit is the Fenway Victory Gardens in Boston. These 500 small garden plots, spanning 7.5 acres in the middle of the city, was Boston’s answer to the call for Americans to grow their own fruits and vegetables during World War II. The beautiful patch-work of garden plots is the only community Victory Garden in the United States to have continued its operation in the same location it had during the war.

This past year we visited in the spring when things were just starting to grow, and again in the fall as the cycle was ending. The beauty was stunning in both seasons—and we’d completely missed the primary growing season! We walked through the garden making some notes for our own, saying hello to the Bostonian gardeners, and noting the communal aspect of their side-by-side gardening. Many languages and cultures mingle. Gardeners share plants and seeds. One plot’s dead plants become another’s compost. Several little plots have space for a small gathering sitting around a picnic table that someone lugged into their garden space. Tranquility and beauty in the city.

The smallest seeds and plants … the gifts of tending and being tended … the bounty and beauty … the community and the communing. I give thanks for gardening and for gardens. 

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Melanie Heusier Hill

Melanie Heusier Hill

Melanie Heuiser Hill is an ELCA pastor and writer. She is a tireless advocate for the rhythm and wonders of the garden, the liturgical seasons in general, and Advent in particular. You can visit her website at MelanieHeuiserHill.com.

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