And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.
February. The mounds of ivy and jagged weeds in the back corner screeched at me like an untrained child whacking at a violin. We’ve taken over. This land is ours now. You don’t have the strength to conquer us. The boxwoods rustled feebly, hidden under heaps of invading vegetation, but the purple hearts whispered, “Don’t bother. She won’t hear us anyway.”
I allowed myself a moment to imagine the beauty and abundance that corner could yield. Lavender, maybe zinnias, a sage bush, and perhaps a crape myrtle. Some vegetables if I was ambitious. I’d been longing to participate tangibly in God’s ancient command to subdue the earth—not with force, but through service and cultivation. Of course, almost all work fulfills this mandate, but working the land closely makes me feel connected to Adam and Eve’s original vocation.
At its best, all creation lifts its voice to praise its creator. Our interactions with the earth and its creatures can coax forth a song of joy or elicit groans of “How long, O Lord?” I couldn’t compose a symphony like Handel’s Messiah from the dirt in my backyard, but maybe I could bring forth a simple tune from a few well-tended plants. I could learn how to make the land praise the Lord.
But the wind hissed through the weeds, whirling them together in a crazed, chaotic dance, and my imagined Eden drifted away. I didn’t have the strength to subdue such a mess. We’d just have to hire a neighbor to whack it all down, like we’d done every other year.
March. Our new puppy bounced around the yard. Squeals and barks filled the air as the dog chased my young son, who ran in circles holding a tennis ball above his head. While I watched, I pulled up a few pieces of crabgrass that hung over the edge of the stone-bordered flower bed. They came away with an easy, satisfying thrup. I pulled a few more. After half an hour, I straightened up and realized several feet of the border was now clear of weeds. I dug the dirt from under my nails, hosed off my feet, and went inside smiling. I’d quieted a few measures of the chaos.
April. I tossed the ball across the yard, then pulled up a handful of ivy until the dog bounded back. Every newly-cleared patch of dirt seemed to sigh in relief: “Thank you! Now I can see the sky again.” Lavender and creeping phlox whistled quiet tunes as their roots adjusted to the soil, and white lantana harmonized with its lacy blooms. The purple hearts along the fence opened their mouths and trilled with joy, mauve centers bobbing out of green throats. “She heard us. We’re rescued.”
I researched more sun-loving flowers, plants God designed to flourish in our long, hot summers. I learned their names: Purslane. Verbena. Pentas. Angelonia. Slowly, those clear stretches of dirt were filled again, this time with spires of deep pink, sprinkles of crimson, mats of green and coral.
May. I had cleared more than half the flower bed, and the empty dirt was begging for new flowers to nourish. The trailing lantana had doubled in size, dense enough to discourage weed regrowth, so I planted an orange-red Texas variety beside its white cousin. Another lavender plant joined the chorus, scraggly but still growing.
I studied the differences between each lantana leaf and blossom, and I thought of Adam, discovering new flowering vines as he explored Eden. Perhaps his intimacy with God gave him the knowledge he needed to help the plant flourish, or perhaps he learned through happy experimentation. Did Eve have a favorite? Did Adam bring a handful of fragrant flowers home to her every evening, just to see her smile?
And to Adam he said . . . “cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
“By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
July. Sweat dripped off my nose into the dirt. Heat blasted up at me like a crashing cymbal. Every tug revealed another foot of snaking roots and tossed dust in my eyes, but if I wanted to revive the boxwoods, I had to clear away all the smothering ivy. The ground groaned for water, drowning out the soft hum of bees and the rustle of the lantana, but for now, my sweat would have to do.
My arms began to shake. The ivy roots weren’t pulling away nicely like the crabgrass had. The sun blared a brassy march, and my back ached. I had to leave the remaining roots for another day.
I turned on the hose and pointed it at the newly-freed bushes and the wilting flowers. But the first gush smashed down the trailing leaves, drowning them in mud. The water the plants so desperately needed trapped the stems and blossoms in the soil. I had to turn down the spray’s intensity, lift the dirty leaves from the puddle, and gently rinse them off.
I held the branches up until the water seeped into the ground, and I thought of Jesus, washing the dust off Peter’s feet. Didn’t it frustrate him to see the body he had made covered in grime? How could he bear to see his creation in such dirty disarray? Did the promise of the new earth ease the ache in his back while he bent to bathe twelve pairs of feet? Could he see the new bodies these men would one day have, their gleaming white robes washed clean by his sacrifice?
Blood dripped down the cross and sank into the dust, each drop a river of life. The earth received it with a sigh, and then a rumble. The ground shook in recognition. The Son of God would save his creation—the people from their sins, and the earth from its curse. His blood watered the parched ground and whispered of the river that will one day run through the shining city of God. But it took three days for the first hints of that promise to appear.
For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
August. Every morning, I amble after the dog as she zips around the yard, releasing the hours of energy she’s stored from sleeping in her crate. I check the blackberry bush I discovered behind the boxwoods for new berries, make sure the angelonia is recovering well from its pruning, and see if the four new lantana plants are adjusting.
I thought my weeks of labor in July might fully silence the weeds, but more pop up every day. They interrupt the harmony between the purslane and the vinca, and try to break up the theme and variations of the lantana. Still, when I back far enough away to see the whole garden, the music is unmistakable. The purple hearts continue their long, patient ballad. The rounded boxwoods stand along the back fence, like timpani arranged behind an orchestra. And all the flowers lift their voices and sing to the Lord.
My garden isn’t large, but it’s joining the oak trees across the street and the river twenty miles away and the hills and oceans and forests across the world to praise the creator.
Humble dominion rolls back the curse, as far as it is found, coaxing the ground to bring up a myrtle instead of a brier, a cypress instead of thorns, flowers instead of crabgrass. The wild ivy will pop back up. The jagged weeds must be removed every spring. But each weed pulled and each leaf watered sings of sins’ and sorrows’ end.