“Don’t mess up that front room, now!” That might be something you remember your mom saying, because if nothing else had any semblance of order, the first room a guest would enter had to look decent. Your Granny may have called it “the parlor,” meant only for guests with family members not allowed in it.
This is how some of us manage our gardens. I’m beginning to notice that the ever-widening flower borders look much better at the front than they do in the far reaches where the taller plants grow.
First impressions are important. But then again, so is deep cleaning. (So I’m told; don’t ask me personally, I’m too busy gardening!)
At the “back forty” — that is, forty feet — the Jerusalem artichokes have taken over in spite of the encroaching shade that the neighbor’s tree casts on it. That’s fine; the compost is back there and I don’t necessarily want to see it often.
Then there is the peach tree garden where the lemon balm has taken over. Yesterday I planted a nice little Vitex tree for the honeybees, and in a three-foot by three-foot space I must have taken out twenty lemon balm plants.
Nobody needs that much lemon balm! Since it was behind the daylilies, cosmos, and irises, we hadn’t been attentive as it multiplied. Further back in that bed are another hundred dwarf comfrey plants doing the same thing, interspersed with a few stray peach seedlings.
I even discovered a charming little grouping of Lilly of the Valley that was hidden by the unruly plants.
The southernmost bed had been taken over by strawberry plants and crocosmia. Other perennials have run wild here and there in the garden, growing bigger and more wayward day by day.
We tend to manage our spiritual lives the same way. We attend worship services, we “play nice” with our coworkers and friends, and often don’t go deeper than that. There is a lot of spiritual work to be done.
There is lot to be said for managing a garden — or a soul — by the method of “first things first” and being aware of the “front room” looking good, but sometimes there is a downside to it as it allows things that are unattended to go a bit crazy.
We must go beyond just keeping up appearances and tend to the things that nobody sees. It is said, “Character is what you are when nobody’s looking.”
Maybe nobody really looks too far into the shadowy places deep in the flower beds. Some of it has become a little scary. The asparagus grows in the farthest reaches of the flower garden, behind the largest arbor. That way it provides an airy backdrop for the colorful perennials beside the wisteria-covered structure.
This year, ignoring it was disastrous! Some kind of thorny weed has grown in among the asparagus, and makes it downright dangerous to venture back there.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” The look of the asparagus bed is still nice, but those thorns are real! Real painful!
We would do well to cultivate those further reaches of the soul before they, too, become treacherous places.
“God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b, NASB).