English Garden Sanctuaries
By Angela Jelf

Sitting in my small garden on a warm London day, my eyes rested on the colorful blooms that dotted my particular plot—delicate pink buds forming on my climbing rose, cheerful clumps of mauve geranium glowing a gentle hue, and bright spears of iris providing a balance of height and hues.  Far from being perfect my garden blossomed as a work in progress; gratefully, several years of hard toil finally started to pay off.

My thoughts drifted back to the day we moved into our home some nine years earlier.  At that time the garden consisted of a small, terraced lawn flanked by two strips of hard, unyielding earth full of stones.  The garden had neither plant nor flower, but dozens of deep-rooted weeds firmly stood their ground.  Still, it had potential; so, I set to work digging, weeding, and painstakingly removing stones.

You may have heard the saying: “The Englishman’s home is his castle.”  Well, perhaps a truer statement would be: “An Englishman’s garden is his pride and joy!”  England is a land of fields, meadows, forests, and ancient hedgerows.  But a typical English home will have a garden located not at the front but at the rear of the property away from the hubbub of traffic.  Our gardens have distinct boundaries—a fence, hedge, or wall—providing a sense of seclusion and privacy.  Even in the heart of suburban London, a garden can become a peaceful sanctuary and a haven for wildlife.  Grey squirrels frequently visit along with butterflies such as the red admiral and a whole host of garden birds such as blue tits, robins, and goldfinches.  An old English song depicts the type of flowers commonly found in our gardens:

How many gentle flowers grow,
In an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some I know,
And those I miss I hope you’ll pardon.
Daffodils, heart’s ease and flox,
Meadowsweet and Lily stalks,
Gentian, lupine, and tall hollyhocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget-me-nots
In an English country garden.

There’s one thing I’ve learned about gardening over the years — no pain, no gain.

In other words, you get out of it precisely what you put in.  The more time and effort you put into a garden, the more lovely it will be.  Such unending toil hearkens back to the fall of humans in Genesis 3:17–19 when God told Adam, “‘Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field.  In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.’”

As I sat basking in the peace and tranquility, I began to reflect on many other parallels I’ve found over the years between gardening and my walk with the Lord.   I thought about how God, the Master Gardener, for years and years, has been patiently and painstakingly transforming me.  How he’s removed my heart of stone and given me a heart of flesh.  Of how he’s constantly digging deep within my heart, getting to the root of the stubborn sins and attitudes that so easily beset me.   “Lord,” I whispered, “Are You speaking to me, here?”

I had asked the Lord to give me a theme for our Ladies’ Ministry Day.  Although the event was scheduled more than a month away, people already started signing up.  With so much to do I felt overwhelmed with the tasks ahead of me.  I needed help, and I needed it fast!

Later that day as I tidied the house, I came across some old Bible study notes I had written entitled: “Cultivating a Relationship With God.”   I glanced down the page to a verse of highlighted Scripture that read, “And you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11, ESV).  This couldn’t be mere coincidence.  All at once I had both my title and subtitle: “Bloom!—Becoming a Well-Watered Garden.”

God’s incredible providence soon followed.  Within days I had two wonderful, godly women on board to help me pull the event together.  Fellow church members and two of the most green-thumbed people I know, the duo agreed to speak about how faith and gardening can so often intertwine.  They also volunteered to help me decorate our church hall.  Gathering together as much gardening paraphernalia we could find, the delightful display included terracotta pots, packets of seeds, colorful blooms, bits of old garden trellis, and even a cheerful scarecrow!

Round tables, spread with crisp tablecloths, were adorned with a coronet of eight individually potted French marigolds that would serve as take-home gifts for each guest.  Into each pot we popped a gardening-themed Scripture reference written on a plant label.  But each of us took home so much more than a potted marigold!  So many valuable truths resulted from our time together.

We considered how, right at the beginning, God placed the man that He had made in a garden.  “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.  The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2: 8, 9, ESV).  The Lord God, not Adam, planted this garden.  How stunning it must have been compared to the toil I experienced in my own garden!

We marveled at the fact that God not only gave us trees that were designed to feed and nourish us but also those that were pleasant to the sight.  Scientists have long thought that green is the most restful color to the human eye, and our Creator definitely blessed us with an abundance of green worldwide.  We also felt enormously moved as we considered that there in the midst of the very first garden stood the center point of God’s eternal plan—our redemption foretold in the tree of life.

In fact, the very first psalm talks about God’s provision to those who follow His ways.  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:1–3, ESV).  These verses talk about delighting in the law of the Lord.  Interestingly, Eden means delight.

God’s intention for every one of us who has been wonderfully redeemed by the blood of Jesus is to flourish, grow, mature, and bloom!  But nothing can bloom without proper nourishment and water.  So, we dig deep into His Word, delight in His ways, and abide in Christ—the True Vine.  “‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing’” (John 15:1–5, ESV).

Some interesting visual aids demonstrated that a set of supports often used in garden nurseries aids plants that are prone to drooping.  Linked together to form a circle, the supports illustrate our need to be connected with our brothers and sisters in Christ to help each other stand tall as we grow in our spiritual walk.  A set of pruning shears reminded us that those who do not bear fruit will be trimmed and that the pruning shears belong in the hands of the Father, not ours.

God blessed our garden-themed gathering from start to finish.  But it turned out He had another blessing in mind for us.  A few weeks later the team of helpers took my four-year-old daughter and me on a wonderful road trip to the gardens of Sissinghurst, an important National Trust Site nestled in the heart of the beautiful Kent countryside southeast of London.

There couldn’t have been a more fitting end to our adventure when we basked in the grandeur of the garden and reflected on all that God had done.   One of the most memorable moments for me was finally reaching the top of the castle tower that looks over the surrounding gardens and the fields.  We all stood there for a moment drinking in the glory of God’s amazing handiwork.  But it was my daughter who rightly captured the unspoken gratefulness that was bubbling up within each of us.  As we stood there taking in the stunning view, she suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, Mummy.  My heart is full of joy!”  Mine was overflowing.

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Angela Jelf writes from London, England, where she explores the wonders of God’s verdure while studying His Word in order to share the blessings with others.  This story is from the Summer 2019 Edition of Creation Illustrated.