A little spot enclosed by grace

My neighbour is a quiet, thoughtful farmer who runs a biodynamic CSA.  In one of our recent conversations, I discovered that he has a university degree in fine art.  I asked him, when he decided to farm instead of pursuing his painting.  He thought for a moment and then replied, “I just decided that the land would become the canvas”. 

His desire to beautify the earth reminded me of the words of Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian, which reflect my own experience in the garden:

“In the beginning, in my first garden in Richmond, Virginia, I farmed for food on the table. But in Charlottesville, Virginia, in Eldersburg and Reisterstown, Maryland, and last, here in Culpeper, the garden has finally reformed my disposition toward it. It has entirely transfigured my vision of life… For the sake of beauty, I gladly leave the ruffled red cabbage to grow long beyond its time for harvest. I let the mustard reach high with bright yellow bouquets. I cultivate carefully the asparagus row not just for the taste of its buttery spears but also for the verdant fern foliage that shoots up after the spring cutting. I let volunteer sunflower, cosmos, and cleome seedlings grow where they choose. And I sneak orange nasturtiums into the hills of sweet-potato vines…

Gardening is not only making the world around us beautiful once more, but letting beauty transform us. Gardening grows from our deep longing for salvation, so that beauty fills our lives. In my garden, I take hope from Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief on the cross that he will be with his Lord in Paradise. I know that the sweat of my brow and tears of penance bring Paradise near in my backyard. For a garden is a profound sign and deep symbol of salvation, like none other, precisely because a garden was our first habitation, and God has deemed it to be our final home. Beauty is the aim of life. God imagined it so. God spoke the Word, and his invisible Image of Beauty became a visible garden.”

This beauty penetrates and seals my family.  In the garden, we are moved out of our familial roles and become fellow workers.  No longer wage-earner, primary care-giver or even children, we labour together to beautify our land beneath the canopy of creation’s temple.  Like those first parents expelled from their paradise, we work by the sweat of our brow.  Removed from the idea of ownership that exists even within the walls of our home (my books, Jacob’s shoes, Zina’s toys), we consecrate our efforts to create soil that nourishes, plants that thrive, food that fills our bellies and feeds our souls.

At the end of the day, I walk in the garden.  I look out over the fields and see the hay baled for winter.  Sprawling pumpkin vines, the heady scent of herbs, the tomato plants ripe with promise. I remember the words penned by Isaac Watts:

Awake, O, heav’nly wind! and come,
Blow on this garden of perfume;
Spirit divine! descend and breathe
A gracious gale on plants beneath.

Our Lord into His garden comes,
Well pleased to smell our poor perfumes,
And calls us to a feast divine,
Sweeter than honey, milk, or wine.


  1. Stunning, Kris.

  2. Mmmmm. I can smell it, so sweet.

  3. Beautiful.

  4. Fantastic.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    Superlative. There’s a primal sense of consecration — and at-one-ment — that occurs when I work in the earth. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a very real sense that I am doing what I am somehow meant to do. Your post evokes some wonderful thoughts and feelings, Kris.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    …Of course, I have no real garden to speak of and barely remember to mow the lawn, but still.

  7. Peter LLC says:

    Nice post. My last major earth experience was digging a big hole in my parent’s yard so my dad could build a bridge for his railroad over it.

  8. “biodynamic CSA”

    Sorry — translation, please? Thanks.

  9. With the reference to Virginia, all I could think of was Confederate States of America.

  10. Sorry for the shorthand with no explanation. Some translation:

    Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that has its basis in the spiritual world-view of anthroposophy, first propounded by Rudolf Steiner. A basic ecological principle of biodynamics is to conceive of the farm as an organism, a self-contained entity. A farm is said to have its own individuality. Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, maintenance of soil, and the health and well being of crops and animals; the farmer too is part of the whole

    Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a direct marketing alternative for small-scale growers. In a CSA, the farmer grows food for a group of shareholders (or subscribers) who pledge to buy a portion of the farm’s crop that season. This arrangement gives growers up-front cash to finance their operation and higher prices for produce, since the middleman has been eliminated. Besides receiving a weekly box or bag of fresh, high-quality produce, shareholders also know that they’re directly supporting a local farm.

    This year we were able to trade the use of one of our fields for a share in the farm. It’s been a rewarding experience.

  11. Researcher says:

    Nice post, Kris.

    Our tomatoes are “ripe with promise” and little else this year. Forget ripe tomatoes for the Fourth of July. We’ll be lucky to have ripe tomatoes for Labor Day.

    This is the first year we planted tomatoes here, so we thought it was something we were doing wrong, but the newspaper this morning reported that due to a peculiar combination of weather, this is the latest tomato crop in over half a century.

    Every gardener learns the law of the harvest, but every gardener also learns that sometimes the harvest is an uncontrollable surprise.

    We belonged to a lovely CSA in San Diego (Be Wise Ranch, so no one has to ask [although it’s full with no applications being taken and it looks like a high demand may be driving prices up a little]) but here we only have access to one CSA and it is full with a full waiting list. I keep trying to convince one of the local farmers to open a CSA, but so far no luck.

    (Belonging to a CSA allows you to live the Jeffersonian agricultural model by proxy.)

  12. Kris, are you a Waldorf family?

  13. SLO Sapo says:

    Since we planted vegetables this year for the first time in a decade, this really resonated with me. Thanks.

  14. I really like this. Although our garden is currently limited to about two dozen pots scattered around the flat and the balcony, the beauty and satisfaction of the harvest are the same.

    My grandmother had a handpainted sign in her garden that said,

    Cela est bien dit, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.

    When I asked her about it, she showed me her copy of Voltaire’s Candide, and explained that the line was the main character’s response to all the foolishness and wickedness of the world: “Excellently observed, but let us cultivate our garden.” As I teach the book these days, I always picture her garden, and the other gardens I’ve loved, as an antidote to all the aggravation and nonsense of the novel and by extension the world.

  15. #11: I always plant my tomatoes on Easter Sunday. It seems to give them an extra edge. Try it.

  16. Jealous of all of you in more hopsitable climates. Tomatoes didn’t go in here until the first week of June.

    Norbert, thank you for the quote and accompanying story.

    Tracy M. yes. We are just about to start our 11th year at our school.

  17. And that is why I love SoCal. I can drool and get some very unrighteous coveting of your lovely large spaces. But I put my tomatoes in the ground in March, and the first one was ripe first week of June. Actually, although I get very early harvests, I don’t tend to get a very large yield. Morning coastal fog keeps them cooler than tomatoes would prefer to be. It’s a rough life, but somebody has to do it. :-)

  18. Researcher says:

    #15 I think that putting Solanum lycopersicum in the ground on Easter Sunday in our hardiness zone would be a violation of the Geneva Convention.

    (See Article 51.)

  19. #18: But how do you wash off soil from your vegetables without using a water board?

  20. #19 It’s “OK” cause the vegetables aren’t in a real army and don’t subscribe to the Geneva Convention anyway. The real torture is reserved for the vegetative combatants: Weeds!!

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