The Accidental Gardener

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Sometimes, serendipity is the best garden designer.

Our ever-changing, ever-expanding perennial bed fronting the previous owner’s chicken coop had a precise plan once upon a time. In my imagination, I had a color scheme of pinks, blues, and purples, some mellow pastels, some bold fashion statements.

I wanted pink plants with cerise blooms that would scream Hawaiian luau, not baby blankets and little girl cheeks. Running through them would be pools of pale yellow—coreopsis, daylilies, and others. For harmony’s sake, the yellow could definitely not shriek like the pinks.

The pinks next to, say, the bright gaillardia (which had to be transplanted away), looked like the outfits my young daughters once came down the stairs in some mornings. (Their inability to understand that red checked pants and purple floral shirts do not complement one another definitely changed over time.)

It Has To Go

One plant that I decided must go was the bold rudbeckia goldsturm in the corner. Gold is in the name for a reason. No subtle yellow tones there. At least, I thought it had to go, until I looked again.

Behind and to the side of the plant, a red barberry bush extends its prickly arms. (Designed to keep the kids away from the lead-paint laden shed windows, the barberry did its job with thorny vigor). In front of it, an aster ‘purple dome’ begins its long-running show. The three together made a combination so breathtaking all thoughts of banishing the offending golden flowers disappeared. Perhaps, so late in the season anyway, the plant could be allowed to stay.

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Stay it did. What I first thought an unlikely combination, destined to quarrel with one another endlessly, became one of the late-summer focal points of the bed.

Plants Are Like People

It reminds me a bit of my two oldest girls. (No, they’re not prickly in general, although at times. . . .) Just eighteen months apart, they were a combination I certainly didn’t intend.

As the two girls grew, my husband and I quickly realized that we were the proud progenitors of night and day, yin and yang, hybrid tea and wild rose. However would we survive the sibling conflicts of two such different girls? Then, they did something surprising. They became best friends, inseparable, rarely erupting into argument, let alone all-out war.

The oldest—sensitive, awkward with people, perfectionistic—depended on her younger sister to draw her into social interactions. She needed Emily’s easy come, easy go life attitude to balance her more dramatic viewpoint that life consists of tragedy and ecstasy with no middle ground. Her somewhat insensitive, bulldozer of a younger sister, on the other hand, needed Becca’s keen perception and deep feelings to check her “I’ve got things to do so get out of my way” ways.

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And People Can Be a Mess

Do you recall the story of Paul and John Mark in the Bible? There’s another unlikely pairing for you. Paul, the “roll right over ‘em” firebrand of an evangelist got frustrated with young John Mark’s apparently more sensitive, tentative nature. When a homesick John Mark left Paul in the middle of an arduous mission trip, the older man vehemently refused to consider him for future service. Their differences seemed too great, their incompatibility too evident.

Yet, years later, hear Paul’s words to Timothy regarding that young man. “Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me” (2 Timothy 4:11). Is he talking about the same person? Apparently, as both men matured in godliness, Paul realized that the younger man’s differences might be complementary rather than repelling. The once good-for-nothing boy had become an indispensable man.

In another letter, Paul explains why.

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up only one body. So it is with the body of Christ. Suppose the whole body were an eye—then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything? But God made our bodies with many parts, and He has put each part just where He wants it” (1 Corinthians 12:12,17-18).

In his wisdom, God made each of us different, giving us different gifts. Those gifts He meant to complement one another, making a beautiful picture out of what may appear to be wildly disparate individual puzzle pieces.

Perhaps there are people in your life you would prefer to dig up and transplant far away from you. They just don’t seem to fit with the picture you’ve planned. Maybe they’re folks at your church or workplace. Maybe even parents or a spouse. Can you step back and see the whole frame, as God sees it? Can you perceive the checks and balances the two of you might use to help one another, if you could only stop clashing long enough to look?

You’re not together by mere chance. God has an ultimate design He’d like you to be a part of. But if one puzzle piece declines to interlock with another, that “big picture” loses something.

Some of my best garden combinations came unexpectedly. So, too, might some of your best people combinations, if you allow them to grow with you, enhancing one another with your contrasts.

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