Better Homes and Gardens

With the jumbled mess in the side yard that used to be a somewhat neat portable shed, this is not the garden in which you will want to take pictures this week. Other messes include buckets filled with weeds, headed for the compost and various tools scattered around the yard.

A few weeks ago, some friends of mine began posting pictures on social media of their not-so-perfect spots in their yards. Did I participate? Well, no; I had too many to list! Besides, I’ve done that on a few occasions.

Our gardens are never like the ones in the pictures in the magazines, with everything blooming at once. How do they get that to happen? And what does that same garden look like a month later? Or a month earlier? Continue reading “Better Homes and Gardens”

False

Indigofera

by Christine Berglund

In my front garden stands an unusual flowering shrub that I had erroneously assumed was “False Indigo.” It came to my attention that it was in fact an “Indigofera,” although its pronunciation still baffles me. Its airy sprays of continual pink blooms are a delight from spring until fall, but when I purchased it I had no idea what it was going to look like as a mature plant. Oh, yeah. I’m that kind of an addict.

The seller had it labeled “False Indigo,” which is another name for Baptisia. At that time, I had no experience with this type of shrubby perennial. Baptisia is a much smaller plant, with a different type of growth habit. Indigofera is a seven-foot tall arching shrub, but the flowers are similar. So do I have a “false false Indigo?”

A double negative in the English language is universally frowned upon, but in the French tongue it would just drive the negativity deeper. So it would become “a plant that really, really isn’t Indigo at all, never was, never will be, and isn’t even really related.” Well, not quite. Mine is probably Indigofera Heterantha Brandis, which may be closer to the true Indigo plant than Baptisia is. Confused yet?

Imitations abound. We constantly make substitutions based on our own preferences. I substitute finely chopped sautéed pork in a traditional Czech soup because one of the aunts in the family used the phrase “make a brown sauce” in her recipe notes. While my siblings may not approve, I look at this as going back to the original method. Mainly I do it because I prefer the flavor over my Dad’s boiled “hunk-o’-meat” method.

Our family has been known to use imitations in other things, too. I use the store brand on many grocery items, and call them “fake” Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers, or whatever.

It is a good idea to consider what is true and good, and what might be dangerously false.

For instance, “True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us” (James 1:27, CEB). Does this mean there is no place for what we look at as traditional devotion, or “religion” as some of the translations call it? Do we cast aside singing, preaching, and praying?

Of course not. The Bible is replete with examples of the early church practicing these things, and directions from the apostles to participate in traditional worship. This passage simply tells us to get our hearts right before we come to God in any worship setting. Jesus reinforced this when he told us to leave our offering (worship) until we made things right with our fellow man (Matthew 5:23,24).

Our hearts must be ready before any adoration to God is offered, otherwise it is just a cheap imitation of devotion, a fake.

Another way of making our hearts ready to worship is by loving and respecting the truth. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, NASB).

How odd that we are told to love the truth, but don’t always bother finding out what it is before coming to God in praise and adoration? It’s similar to calling a plant by the wrong name for five years. I didn’t know any better, but I was still wrong.

I wonder what Solomon would have thought of the plant called “False Solomon’s Seal?” More importantly, what does God think of false devotion?

Keeping up appearances

Tomatoes ripening

by Christine Berglund

“What will the neighbors think?” This is sometimes a valid question if we respect the people around us. This is why we take a little more care in our front yards than in the back.

This type of concern is about doing for others what we would like them to do for us, keeping a tidy and attractive street.

A couple years ago, it finally occurred to me to put my most prized horticultural specimens in the back yard, where our family and friends can fully enjoy them. Conversely, I wondered if I should put those ugly vegetables in the front yard.

This past summer we visited with a neighbor who had a lovely enclosed vegetable garden in full view of the street. Since our front yard is larger and sunnier than the back, I resolved to do the same. We scouted out a spot for our future tomato garden that would get optimum sun and would be easy to water.

As the summer developed, I observed our backyard vegetables. The summer heat and a few very hungry caterpillars caused the tomatoes and kale to look like weary skeletons in comparison to their earlier lush growth. Yet they were still producing and setting fruit. I knew the leaves could grow back after the pests departed and the hot weather cooled. I could not bring myself to do what that neighbor had to do. They sacrificed their aging plants — but I enjoyed tomatoes in November.

There could be no mercy for struggling plants in a front yard, no matter if they were still marginally useful. For this is the realm where “keeping up appearances” is not only a valid concept, but paramount.

Not so in other spheres.

This past week, a svelte young lady was taking her breakfast break at the fast-food restaurant where she works when she was approached by one of the regular customers. He had noticed two biscuit wrappers at her table, and for some reason felt compelled to tell her to watch what she eats, or she would “get fat.”

He had no way of knowing that her Swedish heritage seems to prevent obesity despite her ability to consume massive quantities of food; but that is irrelevant. It has become acceptable in our society to assign so much importance to physical characteristics that it supersedes even the most basic social graces.

Weight, among other appearance factors such as clothing or speech, is just one of many superficial traits our culture idolizes. But it has been emphasized so intensely that even some elected officials and their spouses have claimed it as their mission. Children have difficulty getting enough to eat at school cafeterias, and lunches that they bring from home are often scrutinized and judged.

While there may be an element of concern for health, there seems to be very little concern for young ladies and models who starve themselves. As long as a person exhibits an arbitrarily imagined weight and shape standard, health is not a major concern. Appearance is everything.

Advertisements featuring women are now photoshopped so drastically that there is little semblance from the original model to the final image.

When Samuel was told to go to Jesse’s house to anoint a new king, he mistakenly assumed the taller, more good-looking sons were to be chosen. God corrected Samuel. He does not see as mankind sees, but looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Isn’t it time we did the same?

My veggies will remain safely tucked away in the back yard, because they remain valuable in spite of their unkempt appearance.

Fallen!

Sunflowers111

by Christine Berglund

This brings to mind one of my favorite old recipes, the one for squash souffle.

As any good cook knows, a souffle is supposed to stay puffed up after baking. I had nicknamed this recipe “Babylon Squash Soufflé” because it resembled the curse of Babylon in Isaiah 21:9, and repeated in the Revelation of John.

I loved making this recipe when we had extra butternut or acorn squash.

Now that it is autumn, I notice a variety of plants that have just gotten so heavy they have fallen. It’s not just falling leaves that give this season its name!

Tomato plants have slid down and lay in crumpled heaps at the base of their stakes, and the tall flowers now sprawl lazily across the decaying remnants of the formerly glorious garden.

This is especially true after a good rainstorm. In many cases the storm has beaten the plants well into the ground, and picking them back up can actually break their brittle stems. Great care must be taken with fallen plants like this.

The Maximilian Sunflower is a good example of a plant that will not stand on its own. My first introduction to this majestic flower, Helianthus Maximiliani was last year, when I didn’t know that it would produce twelve-foot long stems.

I didn’t really mind the fact that these long stems splayed themselves in three directions, covering up old cleomes and physalis plants. However, I did feel a little guilty that I let them fall.

What causes Christians to fall? Sadly, this happens all too often. Galatians 5:4 gives us the example of those that want to be justified by law as being “fallen from grace” (KJV). Reducing Christianity to a set of rules is as dangerous as ignoring the laws clearly outlined in Scripture.

More often, Christians fall because of discouragement, lack of knowledge, or lack of faith.

They can become discouraged by a tough set of circumstances, bad examples by other Christians. Sometimes it is just weariness in well-doing.

A lack of knowledge can cause a falling away, because there are plenty of skeptics trying to prove the Bible wrong. They are persistent with their false message, and sometimes the weak Christian just succumbs to the barrage of erroneous information.

A lack of faith can develop when the emotional “flowers and butterflies” — which seem to be everywhere in the springtime of our walk with God — give way to the cold, harsh winds of reality.

As with a toddler, Christians are going to stumble, and sometimes fall. What is important is not the amount of times we fall, but rather how often we get up again.

“Though a righteous man falls seven times,
he will get up,
but the wicked will stumble into ruin” Proverbs 24:16, HCSB).

Seven times? The inspired writer probably means “unlimited times,” as the number seven indicates completion in Hebrew numerology. The important thing is to get back up. Don’t be like the people on that commercial, who say, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.”

I will exalt You, Lord,
because You have lifted me up
and have not allowed my enemies
to triumph over me.
Lord my God,
I cried to You for help, and You healed me..
Lord, You brought me up from Sheol;
You spared me from among those
going down to the Pit (Psalm 30:1-3).

Rise up again! We don’t look as pretty as my sunflowers when we’ve fallen down. God is there to lift you up.

Tasty

Marjoram (1)

by Christine Berglund

The chartreuse pop of color that my marjoram displays is a nice contrast to the plainer green in the herb bed. As a matter of fact, that might be the only reason that it’s there. The plant is an ornamental variety, and not as flavorful as its standard, less flashy cousin.

That’s too bad. I like to make herb vinegar in the fall, and rarely does the marjoram earn a place in the herb mix.

So it is with so many things that look attractive on the surface. They just don’t measure up.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8, HCSB)

Here is one realm where tasting is believing! God does not disappoint those who trust in him.

Unfortunately, too many will not “taste.” There are many who remain on the outside looking in, so to speak, with the church. They look at the menu of what they perceive to be Christianity, but don’t really delve into what the truth is and what the Bible teaches.

When they see something they think they won’t like, they act like petulant children, and won’t take a bite. Maybe they perceive a legalistic attitude, maybe it’s an illogical emotionalism, maybe something else. It’s important for us to reflect Christianity in a palatable way, but it’s also each person’s responsibility to check things out for himself.

One sweet lady I know is turned off by what she perceives as unnecessary violence in the times of the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of the promised land.

We have not had a chance to really discuss it yet, but so far she has been open to the idea of learning new ideas. It’s my personal opinion that she will see why there was so much violence in the Old Testament, once she digs in and gets a taste of the Bible as a whole.

Isn’t it just like baking a cake? The flour may not be good all by itself, nor the cocoa powder, nor the other ingredients; but put together, a chocolate cake is pretty yummy! The flavors blend and come together in a way that makes sense.

I do have to admit that the ornamental marjoram might be a good ingredient in some more mild dishes. It’s possible that I haven’t done enough tasting for myself. In the meantime, it holds a place in my garden for its visual appeal. I’m glad I tried it out!

Maybe you have been struggling with questions about the church, or about the Bible. What is necessary here is to “taste.” Get into the word of God, and find out how delicious Christianity is!

Same old same old

Cleomes (1)

by Christine Berglund

The Cleome flowers growing along the fence look identical to what they looked like a month ago-–at least at first glance. The flower heads look the same, and they have spidery seed pods sticking out underneath each flower.

This is what gives the plant the nickname “Spider Lily.” To the untrained observer, it appears that the flower does not die off, but stays in bloom throughout the season.

What really happens on this plant is that the flowers just keep coming on at the end of the stem. Although they look like a well-formed ball, they are actually individual flower stems that take on a spherical appearance because the new mini-flowers are smaller, and the older ones droop slightly, thus giving it a curved shape.

That round mass of frilly, spikey, pink and purple puffball seems to get pushed further and further on ever-lengthening stems, sporting the spidery seed pods among the short leaves along each slender stalk.

As a gardener that watches her plants carefully, I know it is time to cut these plants down, because the thickening woody stem will prove too weak to hold up the continually growing stems. The result will be that these “Spider Lilies” will flop beyond the borders of my flower beds in a messy, tired heap.

These plants, among others, show signs of age. As the garden creator, I know their end is coming soon. The cleomes don’t know this, and they just keep putting on more and more flowers. Aren’t we humans the same?

We act as if we have all the time in the world. We even look around and say “I don’t see anything different.” The ancients fell into this same delusion.

“… I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’” (2 Peter 3:1-4, ESV).

By design, there is no warning or hype leading up to the coming of the Lord. This makes it easy to dismiss the reality that there will be a day of judgment. There is nothing different happening that would show that Jesus might be coming.

“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-6).

As I clip and gather the fading Cleomes to toss into the firepit, I am reminded of the transient nature of our existence on earth.

Since I’m only a garden creator and not the Creator of the world, I won’t even take a guess at whether we are living in the last days. But I know the promise of his coming is true, and I intend to be ready! How about you?

Think souls

Onion sprouting

by Christine Berglund

My father used to say:

“The onion is the only vegetable with a soul. It can get downright rotten, but inside there is something that will live and grow again.”

As with many of Daddy’s philosophical statements, this one rings true but is actually part of a larger truth. All seeds and bulbs have parts that rot in the ground. Jesus illustrates this concept in a grain of wheat.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24, NASB).

Our lives, like the onion, can get really nasty and foul. Mankind was corrupt and rancid when Jesus came and redeemed us from the rottenness of sin. He saw the part that will live on, and valued it immeasurably!

The world can be a rotten place, with seemingly rotten people. We naturally recoil from the sin, just as I will surely wear garden gloves when planting my decaying onions.

But we must never forget the great value of that soul inside. In the course of our lives, we will come in contact with people who have turned their lives into a putrid mess. Yet, there is always that immortal life within.

The most reprobate of humankind are valuable souls. Whether they will have a chance to turn their earthly lives around is irrelevant.

That non-slimy part on the inside is still going to live after death. Whether they live in sin-caused disease or even in prison for a few decades, what does it matter in light of eternity? All is made new in the new heaven and the new earth, where righteousness dwells.

The scriptures give examples of some degenerates who were “washed” and “sanctified.”

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

My onion will live through the spring and probably have two bulbs to harvest in the late summer. Our family can enjoy one in a batch of chili, and the other one can be planted, or stay in the ground to reproduce further.

My other dead-looking seeds are even more valuable as I plan to harvest and then to propagate more plants from their seeds. Similarly, we won’t know how many souls will be reached for God until we hold our noses and reach out with the gospel to those rotten ones.

It is always astounding when I hear from that bratty boy in second-grade Bible class who is now a faithful gospel preacher. I marvel at God’s wisdom when I think of the alcoholic who was confronted by my husband at the local bar, and sobered up and became a church leader.

Some have even found their former way of life a motivation toward greater works in the kingdom; in the same way that the squishy, useless part of the onion will then feed the developing plant.

Hardcore gardeners plant and cultivate our decaying vegetables, because we see the life within. Daddy might have seen it as “Thinking Souls.”

As the Twig is Bent

Corkscrew Willow11

by Christine Berglund

My lovely Weeping Corkscrew Willows, Salix Matsudana Tortuosa, have always been bent and twisted. It’s a defining feature of the tree, and it adds texture to the garden as the curly branches twist and twine their way toward the ground in zig-zag waterfalls.

We have named the pair “George” and “Gracie.” George is a bit older, and I wasn’t very diligent in trimming off the new, contorted sprouts as they grew off the four main trunks. (Yes, four trunks; another gardening mistake of mine).

Consequently, a few of them crossed each other and got intertwined, and now are growing as one mangled branch. That distorted branch isn’t going in the direction that it should have, and I could have prevented the disfigured mess if I had pruned it while it was younger.

“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” We use this old adage when we speak of raising children. The principle is also true at any age. Adults can allow themselves to be easily impressed, or “bent,” into exhibiting certain characteristics.

It’s really all about how we learn bad habits and make them our own by repeating them. Using coarse language, adopting a negative mindset, or a general feeling of entitlement might be a beginning of even worse behavior.

Or perhaps the first drag on a cigarette, viewing porn, or cheating others for dishonest gain might be an outgrowth of earlier, smaller directional choices. Twisted thoughts beget twisted actions. Before long, sin entangles us.

“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:20-24, NASB).

Thankfully we don’t have to stay “bent out of shape” when we “learn Christ.” While it is impossible to straighten out the contorted branches and twigs of my trees after the wood becomes hardened, with God nothing is impossible!

Bad habits and even personality characteristics can be changed through being “renewed in the spirit of your mind.”

The word “repentance” literally means to turn around and go the other direction. My curly willow trees sometimes have branches that have doubled back on themselves; it’s really quite interesting to see!

As a gardener might judiciously prune the branches to make them more visually appealing, we can cut out the bad habits and turn around to go in the right direction. This process is much easier before the habits become a way of life.

Now that I am more familiar with these Corkscrew Willows, I find that it is a good idea once in a while to untangle those wayward, curly branches. That way the effect will be a neater, more flowing appearance.

We would do well to untangle our lives and habits, too.

Numbering our Days

Calendar989

by Christine Berglund

There are now seventy-one days left until the first expected frost, for most of Middle Tennessee, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. This might leave time for another crop of beans, but in my area that could be risky.

The big topic for discussion lately is how many days there are until school starts. In many cases it has already begun. My daughter has exactly eight days left at home before going back to college.

If you’ve ever been close to a young child waiting for a birthday or holiday, you will be constantly reminded about the days remaining until the big event!

It is human nature to keep track of our time and our days. We maintain an abundance of watches and calendars. We do this because it helps us plan, whether it is for a garden, first day of school, or a birthday party.

In the garden, we can avoid failure (such as my frozen tomato seedlings this spring) by watching and numbering the days, and being aware of the correct time and season.

My failure to harvest an unfamiliar variety of tomato last year reminded me of the necessity to “number my days” right. Their greenish color tricked me into thinking they were not ripe, when I should have been aware of the proper number of days from planting to harvest.

I am growing another green tomato variety this year, and now I am experienced enough to pay attention to the expected ripening date.

Do we learn appropriate timing with the mundane tasks of our lives, but not our spiritual needs?

“So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12, NASB).

What a wonderful thing to present back to our Creator — wisdom! On the other hand, what if we haven’t planned on meeting him when it’s time, and we are not ready? Totally unwise.

Life will advance minute by minute, day by day, year after year whether it is spent serving the God of creation or our own tiny selfish wants and needs.

What about presenting to God a heart of wisdom? That will only happen, as the Psalmist said, if we allow the Father to teach us to number our days.

Knowing that this journey that we call life is a “limited engagement” should ultimately cause us to choose more wisely how we spend that short time. It is this realization, that time is so limited, that makes it precious to us. We then use it with much better discernment.

Does it bother you as much as it bothers me when you hear someone speak of “killing time?” To me, that’s simply murder!

There are several ways we can make the most of our time:

  1. Put God first, the rest should fall into place.
  2. Make memories; cherish the moments before, during and after those especially precious times. Before, by good planning; during, by being there — REALLY there –- not with your thoughts elsewhere; after, by remembering and focusing on the good.
  3. Know the reason you were put here on earth (Ephesians 2:10).
  4. Stay aware of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Time will pass one way or another; whether we fritter it away with life’s little cares, or whether we really energetically dig into life with all our being!

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories” (Ray Bradbury).

After its kind

Black Krim

by Christine Berglund

When the good Lord made the earth, he set in motion the laws of Nature. Plants reproduce after their kind (Genesis 1:11, 12).

He put the DNA material in them to allow hybridizers to develop different varieties, but in general, plants grown from good seeds will precisely replicate the parent plant.

It is with this confidence that I planted the seeds last February for the delectable Black Krim heirloom tomatoes that I had discovered last season. We decided that we would be happy if all tomatoes tasted this good, even though they were as ugly as tomatoes can get.

We borrowed a large grow-light setup from a good friend, and carefully planted the little plastic cells with the seeds ordered online. Every day I would use a spray bottle to keep the potting medium moist, but not so wet that the seeds would rot. We put the grow lights on a timer, so that they would be sure to get enough light to get that head start that they needed to give us early tomatoes.

Two of them were tenderly planted in the cold frame, to keep the late frosts from freezing them while they got used to being outside. The rest were repotted into larger containers, and spent most of the mild days outside near our back walk. They were taken in to the garage on frosty nights. Well, almost all the frosty nights.

Good thing I still had seeds, right? A new planting was made in late March, and the same care was taken to ensure that we would have these tasty, purple-green tomatoes for summer harvest.

Here it is August, and we finally get to reap the harvest of the careful seed-starting and growing. Our first plant, saved from that fateful frost and planted in April, produced in June. We thought it was odd that the tomatoes were pink and oddly shaped and deeply ribbed.

By the time the second one started producing a few weeks ago, this time a dusty red color without the telltale green shoulders of the Black Krim, we knew there was a problem. Not only had the seeds been mislabeled, but they were not even all the same!

Finally, this week, a third plant started bearing fruit. At last, it had the green on top and the purplish-red on the underside that we recognized from last year’s favorite tomato.

It didn’t quite taste as good as we remembered, but that’s a subjective judgment, and we will have to settle for what we have, in any case.

I am reminded that the Bible is compared to seeds. It reproduces precisely, unlike my poor tomatoes.

The fruit? Christians! Not different kinds, not the “wrong” kind, just Christians; the same as it produced in the first century (See Acts 2:22-42). If the seed is pure, the fruit will be true.

When we taint the pure words of God with those of so-called modern “prophets” or spiritual leaders or church councils, or a governing body of any kind, it will produce contaminated fruit. Preaching and teaching are necessary and useful,  but the final authority is the Bible, and nothing else.

Just as 2000-year-old date palm pits found at Masada were successfully sprouted in 2005, spiritual seed produces after its kind.

One of the most amazing and wonderful things about the true church of Christ is that it can be reproduced anywhere and at any time, by reading and following the scriptures.

“The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11b, NASB). Use good seed, and get a good harvest.