Archive for August, 2009

Once upon a greenhouse

Once upon a time…my great-grandparents and grandfather owned a commercial nursery business in Atlanta.  Of course, I never realized that it was a business, I just thought that my family enjoyed growing things, and other people enjoyed coming over to see the flowers.  My family maintained three greenhouses, all put in place in the late 1940’s, full of every imaginable flower, although it’s the geraniums that fill my memories.

There’s magic in a greenhouse.  There’s light, and beauty, and heat, and perfume that will knock you off your feet.  Walking into a steamy, geranium-filled greenhouse on a cold, dreary January day leaves a lasting glow on your soul.

Twenty years after the death of my great-grandmother, there is only one greenhouse still standing.  A fallen tree destroyed the other two, and my grandfather just was not able to maintain the remaining greenhouse in its former glory during the last years of his life.  But even with it’s broken panes of glass, so lovlingly sealed with the stapled-on bags from potting soil, even with the weeds growing in the corners, and the vents slightly off-center by the ravages of time, I love that greenhouse.

I spent many hours there with my grandfather in the cool damp late weeks of winter, pricking out seedlings and transplanting them, planning the garden for the following season, and listening to his stories of my family, my heritage, and my self.  He could really tell a story that would make you laugh and question at the same time, a natural knack for making you ask, “and then what happened, Grandpa?”

In that greenhouse I learned many things. I learned that it was my great-grandmother who first wanted a greenhouse, and my great-grandfather, Pop,  wanted her to have it out of his love for her.  While my grandpa was away during WWII, Pop converted the chicken house to the first greenhouse, and I imagine that it was a gift intended to help my great-grandmother get over the grief and fear of having two sons away at war.   I learned that the last greenhouse was purchased from the National Greenhouse Company and my grandfather laid the foundation for it in October of 1948.  I learned that my grandpa and Pop built the cemented potting table for her to use because the metal potting tables kept rusting, but that my great-grandmother was a bit shorter than me, so then they had to put a 4X4 into the floor of the potting shed so she could stand on it and reach the table comfortably.

That potting table, built for my great-grandmother, was too low for my grandfather to work at comfortably, and in the end, the potting shed was just too dark for him to see.  He would often take a flat and seedlings and go out into the greenhouse to work under the light of the glass canopy and at the height of the sand-filled tables, where he could still see a bit, and his back didn’t hurt to bend over.

I like the potting shed.  I like the coolness of the earth around me, I like the dampness of the soil when it’s ready for working on the cement potting table.  But as I stand there on my great-grandmother’s 4X4, at the table built out of love for her by her son and her husband, what I love most is the presence of my family, there in the shadows and in the streaming sunlight.  I can feel them all around me, and I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.

The table is just the right height for me.

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It rained last week. A LOT. In fact, all told the garden got about two inches of rain in four days after a three week dry spell. And while I’m very very thankful for the rain, it did come at a rather tricky time of trying to get the greens planted and ready for the fall u-pick-it business. But nothing can be done about planting until the soil dries out a bit and can be worked. With the high clay content that we have in our garden, trying to work the soil while it’s wet only results in bricks.

As a result, the past few days in the garden I have been doing what things could be accomplished while I wait for the sun and the wind to dry out the earth. Tony helped me to put out stakes for the peppers, and other than that, I’ve weeded.

And weeded.

And weeded some more.

The odd thing about it is that I really enjoy weeding after a rainfall. The work is quick and light, and the weeds, which had seemed so indomitable prior to the rain, are now uprooted easily with a twist and a firm tug. It’s gratifying work to pull the weeds before they have a chance to set seed. You can see the progress as you go down the rows, and, once the row is complete, the peppers stand out proudly and grow much stronger without having to compete with the weeds for nutrients.

Weeding, while still a gardening necessity, is spiritually and aesthetically pleasing to me, and I always fall deeply into contemplation when working alone in the garden, pulling weeds.

Of course, as I mentioned previously, weeding after a soaking rainfall is much more productive than weeding during a dry spell. When the soil is hard and dry, the weeds break off in your hands, while the roots stay below the surface. Most weeds will then just send out runners and rhizomes , and where once there may have been one weed, now there are multiple weeds in its place. Weeding in the dry, hard clay of Georgia is frustrating and futile.

The difference is the rain.

The weeds are the same. The particles of soil are the same. The action of the gardener is the same, but the rain makes the outcome so very different. It is only AFTER the soaking rainfall that the weeds can be pulled easily, and in the act of that pulling, the soil is aerated as effectively as if it were freshly tilled, allowing the plant to grow even stronger.

It’s the rain that makes the difference.

When the days are sunny and bright, without rainfall, it’s as though everything is perfect, but moment by moment, in the midst of all that seeming peace and perfection, the earth is getting baked harder and harder. My soul can be like that. Too much ease, too much brilliant sunlight,  and the weeds begin to set in. Laziness, pride, complacency, self-indulgence and envy, all these weeds take hold at the slightest opportunity and flourish, digging in with tiny, powerful roots.  I see them, and can’t help but think, “nah, it’s hard to pull them now. They’ll just break,” before leaving them to grow another day.

But just before the weeds completely overtake me, God always sends the rain. He knows that rain in my life – hardship, sadness, loss, and fear – is often what I need most to soften the hardened clay of my soul. When the rain has finally stopped my momentum, when the rain makes any other task seem impossible, the only task left is to weed.

Sometimes it takes a great deal rain for me to stop and attend to the weeds in my garden, but when I do, the reward is often profound.

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