How does your garden grow?

The Bible often uses the image of a garden to represent our lives. Michele Morrison outlines the key tasks for keen gardeners as Spring approaches and suggests there are parallels for our spiritual condition

Daylight is beginning its seasonal stretch and it’s time to take a long, hard look at your garden. How has it fared through the dark winter months? Which jobs require urgent attention?

After weeks of sedentary pursuits huddled indoors, what a relief it can be to leap into action! But beware. Many an osteopath makes his salary off the sore backs of over-enthusiastic gardeners in the spring!

A garden in spring is like the opening act of a theatrical production: the better the preparation, the better the show. If autumnal clear-up operations were completed, then once the superficial chaos wreaked by winter winds is remedied, the curtain will rise on a glorious stage featuring frequent and delightful scene changes.

So, armed with fork and rake, tour the garden with your wheelbarrow, tidying up the detritus of winter: mouldering leaves, broken branches, and so on. You’ll probably uncover a few forgotten bulbs struggling valiantly to reach daylight through the thick mulch of dead, damp leaves.

The glories of spring bulbs and primroses revealed, where should you invest your precious time?

Focus on four tasks: weed, feed, prune and plant.
No amount of assiduous autumn weeding will have eliminated all spring weeds, so on your knees to root them out without disturbing those bulbs and perennials which have not yet made their entrance. A garden plan, designed on a computer or drawn on the back of a napkin, can be very helpful in reminding you what is planted where!

Weeding under control, work some leaf mould or well-rotted manure into the soil to refresh and feed it. Spread compost or a general fertiliser round the bases of your roses, trees and shrubs; fork it over, and then cover with mulch to help retain moisture during any dry spells and prevent, or at least retard, new weeds taking root. Sprinkle sulphate of potash around fruit trees.

Next, grab those secaturs. If you didn’t manage to finish through the late autumn and winter, you have a brief opportunity before the real spring burst to prune trees and shrubs. Don’t be fooled into thinking that wild growth promises a beautiful plant; the expert gardener knows that some skilful pruning now will increase fruitfulness later.

Prune fruit trees before buds open or the tree will be stressed and the crop poor. Prune roses if you haven’t already done so, and cut back buddleia and elder courageously, reducing the length of branches by about 50%. This will encourage a fuller bush, much more attractive than one with the bottom third just a tangle of dead twigs. 

Now is the time to reposition shrubs and to plant new bushes. Sow seeds now, too, mostly under glass. Admittedly, growing annuals from seed is labour intensive, but it is more rewarding and less expensive than buying seedlings from your local garden centre. 

I always sow a lot of annuals. I love the vibrant neon colours of Livingston Daisies, the cheerful yellows of marigolds, the rich pastels of asters and the intoxicating fragrances of sweet peas. I start them off in the conservatory with mixed results.

A propagator with temperature controls is best as this encourages more vigorous roots, as the heat comes from underneath. If you start your seeds in a greenhouse, do take care that no rodents can get in or they will certainly binge on the unexpected feast you provide for them and leave you only withering stumps.

Sweet peas gain strength if they are re-potted when about three inches high - into deep containers such as large yogurt pots or even toilet rolls - so they can stretch out their roots. Timing is tricky with sweet peas: sow too late, and your show will be late and poor, but sow too early, and the plants may become leggy unless you assiduously pinch off top growth once several leaves have formed.

A garden is like a woman’s work: never done. Whatever size patch you’ve got, don’t let it overwhelm you. Develop a realistic strategy and work within it. Mary, my gardening guru, advised me to abandon certain areas of my garden to the random beauties of nature, and concentrate on the beds within the stone dykes. Some of these beds are tousled and unmade still, but I am enjoying the creative challenge of planning heights and spreads, colours and seasons of blossoms.

A garden is a reminder of our own limitations. The best gardener can prepare the soil perfectly, weed and feed, clip and prune, and plant with precision, but disease, pests, and the vagaries of the weather can still wreak havoc. Even with perfect conditions, the gardener only sets the stage: it’s our Father, the gardener, who produces the show by making it all grow.

As you sit back to enjoy the stunning displays of spring bulbs and fruit blossom, consider the garden’s parallels with your own spiritual condition. Are you choked with weeds, cluttered with dead wood, needing to stretch your roots deeper?

We all endure wintry seasons in life – in relationships, finances, or health. Our attitudes can become warped and rigid, our understanding can be blown off-centre, swinging away from Jesus and towards our own self-interest. Our hope may disappear beneath the detritus of life.

Perhaps your heart is sour with sin. You may need to repent in order to cleanse and prepare it for the sowing of heavenly seed. With the help of the Holy Spirit, clear away any inner mess which is preventing the growth of godly virtues. Weed out warped ideas and bitter roots, and allow God to prune away bad habits.

God has an eye for inner beauty. He looks at you and me, and he sees the possibilities of creating a colourful display bearing glorious fruits and exuding the fragrance of Jesus. He can do it. All things are possible with God. No inner garden is too overgrown for him. He’s provided all we need to flourish in him – but we need to co-operate. We need to feed on him, reading and meditating on his Word regularly, speaking and listening to him in prayer, allowing the sunshine of his love to shine on us so that his light and warmth tease sleepy seeds of holiness into life-giving plants.

Be encouraged as you check out your spiritual health, for you will undoubtedly discover new growth which the Holy Spirit has been nurturing in you. Growth is silent, so perhaps you’ll be surprised to find signs of increased love for others, for instance, or of a deeper desire to serve.

As you prayerfully reflect, you may realise that there have been fewer angry outbursts lately: self-control has been growing. Maybe there is an increase in your patience, or you sense a deep joy independent of circumstances, but springing from your love of Jesus.

As you wait upon the Lord, do you sense there is a new planting he wants to make in your life, a new direction he wants you to pursue? Is he calling you into new challenges? “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

In spring, the garden awakens to newness of life. May our spirits respond to the warmth of God’s love for us, as we allow him to produce colour, fragrance and peace within us, not for our own sakes, but so that we may be a blessing in this world.