My dad's grape cart waiting to be filled with dirt and this season's blooms

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot … a time to tear down and a time to build up.” –Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

My dad knew all about plants and flowers but kept his choices simple. Each year he filled a white grape cart with red geraniums and set it at a diagonal in the front yard just before his stunning landscaped arborvitae shrubs. He had a trough in which he planted more geraniums, these ones, red and white, and set them just off the porch. From the top of the beams, he hung baskets of bright pink and white flowers. In the back yard, he planted both purple and white rhododendron bushes as well as tulips and azaleas. Along the border of the yard he placed more arborvitae with two rose bushes.
Dad's arborvitae freshly-trimmed out front

The first spring after he passed away, I let his garden grow over with weeds. I was no flower expert. Anxious, I pestered everyone I knew with questions. My mom. My brother’s wife, Julie. Cousin Gracie. Aunt Mary. Close friend, Sue.  The dog. A stray rabbit on the edge of the lawn…

“Is that a weed or a flower?”

“What about this one?”

“Can I pull those ones over there? They look dead.”

Fear paralyzed me. It was mid-summer before I started any serious weeding. I couldn’t make a single change without checking with someone else first and no one had much time to advise me. I could picture my dad with a wave of his hand giving me the permission I needed, “Take ‘em all out.” But, still, I couldn’t touch them. What if I pulled up something important? I’d ruin all my dad’s hard work. And he couldn’t fix it.

I think that back garden with its weeds symbolized my confusion of life without dad more than anything else I could

Both Dad's rhododendrums bloom year after year

think of that first year. He wasn’t supposed to die leaving me so many unanswered questions – nothing profound, just everyday life questions. Questions I didn’t even know I had till he was gone. I was finishing my teaching contract abroad. In just a few months I would have returned home. Then we’d have made up for all the years I spent abroad. I was actually looking forward to living around family again.

But then he died. And the flowers got weeds. No one seemed to care about the garden but me.  I didn’t know anything about gardening then, let alone the difference between weeds and Dad’s favorite flowers. I was trying to keep everything up like he would have liked it and bending under the strain of my ignorance.

I remember so clearly feeling helpless that first summer after my dad’s death. Diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, he lived only a few months. I felt overwhelmed with guilt for choosing to live and travel abroad for so many years. I never thought my father would be taken from me that quickly.

The Lamb's Ear and a tiny white flower are the first to bloom this year..

I grieved by obsessing over the garden and my unanswered questions, teetering between anger at my dad for leaving me without clear answers and guilt for never having been around to ask the questions in the first place. Of course, the questions I needed answering encompassed more than simple gardening matters.  They ranged from the make, model and age of his antique car collection to how do you season wood? Who should I choose to finish my apartment? What did you do with your boat? What’s the best way to …? Questions came to me everyday about decisions I had to make resettling in the family,  my flat, my town and how to handle this situation or that one.

But God is merciful. He pointed me to the garden.

Dad's Legacy

The very same garden that drove me to distraction provided a focus in which to pour my energy. That next spring and each year after, God placed people in my life who knew about gardens. I learned what a weed looked like and plucked it early, as soon as spring arrived, so that I could prepare the flower bed for a variety of annuals and perennials.   Sue had great patience. She taught me what to look for in a good flower and showed me how to plant it in the ground. From that point on out, I began to plant my own flowers in the gaps between the annuals my father had planted. Season after season, Sue took me flower shopping .

My dad’s garden looks beautiful these days with dozens of fresh, colorful flowers of my own choosing. When I started making decisions and adding my own touches, I began to think of it as our garden–my father’s and mine. Most of my unanswered questions now have answers. When I take in the transformation, I know that God has replaced doubt with confidence. In the absence of my father, I could feel the presence of God as He knelt on His knees in the dirt to keep me company while I hesitantly explored this new outlet. Working in the garden was healing. The million other questions  I had for my dad seemed to fade in importance over time. But I still have moments when I want to seek his advice, and it grieves me that I can’t.
My dad's garden is beautiful this year...

I didn’t know I was going to write about my dad’s garden tonight. I had a completely different story in mind. But as I prayed for God to shape my thoughts, He directed me to the garden. And as I glanced over at the calendar next to my computer, I noticed the date: May 17th, 2012. Dad, it’s been exactly six years now.  I wish you could walk through the garden with me in the daylight and point out the flowers you like best. I miss you, dad, and will love you forever.
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I’m just starting to learn about flowers. What are your favorite summer blooms?  Can you recommend a good flower to add to my garden? Drop a comment on my blog. I need all the help I can get!

Tending to my Dad’s Garden
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