Gardening seems so dreamy. Working the soil, nurturing little seedlings, and enjoying a harvest – whether it’s things you can eat or just pretty things to look at. How rewarding. I’ve tried to garden and even been a little bit successful at times, but generally I stink at it. Such a bummer. I really can’t count how many springs have found me up to my elbows in dirt and loving it, only to have pathetic looking corn stalks and tomato plants with lots of flowers (but never forming fruit) decorating our yard. I had something kind of humorous happen this spring. One of the few flowers that held over from last year seemed to have really decided to be a fixture in our yard – yay! I looked out my kitchen window just in time to see my sweet hubs hack the thing down, mistaking it for a weed (I guess that tells you how pretty the flower was). That was nothing compared to the time that I had little blueberry bushes established in the yard of our first house in Portland (2004) and one of the college guys from our church came over to do some yard work (I think to make money for an overseas trip) and hacked them all down with a weed-whacker. I was at work and my hubs had to break the news to me when I got home. I cried. Then we had blueberry pancakes for dinner in remembrance. I really think that deep inside me lives a gardener, but she just doesn’t have enough gusto to persevere through the difficulties yet. Terrible allergies, endless interruptions and trying to keep kids relatively safe, stifling heat and subsequent hard-as-concrete ground take their toll and drain my motivation. It’s frankly kind of embarrassing to have a yard and not have it be “productive” by local standards. These people put a stick in the ground and it grows leaves. I’m not exaggerating – saw both of my next-door neighbors do this a couple of years ago. If I put a stick in the ground, it just gets kicked over by a soccer ball. The neighbors have graciously tried to give me advice but I think it’s clear to all of us – I need help.
I’ve had such a conflicted heart over our yard since we moved to this house (in Feb. 2013 – sweet liberation from three years of apartment life!). We were beyond ready to have some more outdoor space and less people-density. My nine and seven-year old both have endless energy – we call it “fizz” (thanks again, Luci). And the fizz has a lot more room to get out with a yard than it did in that apartment. The thing here is that NO ONE gears their yard around their kids’ play needs. Yards are for production of food and for adding to your good reputation by making the non-food-producing parts beautiful. We created quite a stir when we made a sandbox in the back yard. No one could figure that one out, but once the neighbor kids saw we truly intended for kids to play in it = elation. Once we had some grass growing (grass mixed with a lot of weeds) but we quickly took care of that by allowing our kids to play soccer on the grass. It died. So I’ve battled with feeling on one hand like our yard is a neighborhood embarrassment (even though it’s behind walls and you can’t even see it from the street) and on the other hand like our yard is our yard and we should just use it the way we want to. I’ve already lost the war of the really tidy house. I’m completely outnumbered by people who don’t even notice a mess and, indeed appear to love chaos (though we may be building some girl power around here and slowly turning that ship around). So I have no expectation that our yard will be really tidy. But I can’t change how I was made and I just feel more relaxed when there’s not a lot of chaos going on around me. I’m really up and down with this thing.
This summer we received a grace that I didn’t recognize right away but I’m recognizing it now. Rees got into buying livestock (a post for another day) and we now have five sheep and two goats in our yard. The kids would want me to also mention that we have a tortoise. I asked God to teach us through these sheep since there’s so much in the Bible about sheep and shepherds and stuff. He has taught us. But He also liberated me from the yard conflict and that’s a big gift. We’ve discovered that you can’t possibly have plants growing where you have livestock roaming around. They eat the plants. So the choice is: a working yard or a pretty yard and I wasn’t very good at the pretty yard thing anyway. The grace to surrender to the working yard – I’m so thankful for that. Since there’s no hope for the yard to turn into a lovely garden while we have these animals here, it has allowed me to loosen up on what the kids are doing out there too. My older two have made a habit of freaking me out since they born. Seriously, when I was pregnant with my third baby, the prayer I prayed the most (in addition to general health/safety) was, “Oh God, please don’t let this one be a bolter like the other two!” They are out there climbing trees, walking on walls, jumping from stuff and all kind of whatnot. They are really fun people, they just scare me because I am their mom. Now that we have the animals, I let them climb a little higher because they are climbing with a purpose (to get more leaves for the animals) and I let them build whatever they want (so far). The kids love to visit with the animals and the neighbors send over their vegetable food scraps to help feed them.
So now we have a working yard that’s also working for us and the grace to recognize it is a gift. There’s also grace to just accept where we’re at right now with it, not making a sweeping generalization that “I’ll never have a real garden!” As winter approaches and our tortoise moves toward hibernation, I’ve wondered if the gardener in me is also just in hibernation and she’ll wake up someday. For now, we are living in the grace of the messy yard.
The little black goat is Hannah’s. Her name is Rose.
The kids drawing the kinds of bugs they found out there. The sandbox is the concrete container on the left.
Nothing pretty but it’s pretty fun.