MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419
GARDENING IN WINTER
For the snowbound: winter is a little late to get going on the garden. Starting in the fall is better, but some things can be done anyway. This is the season when I used to feel like that that saint tied to a stake and pierced with a dozen arrows. Yes, the gardening catalogues start flowing in winter. The companies know that a gardener’s plans are not going to be diminished by any sense of reality. The catalogue-seduced gardener says, “I can put that group of roses there, and another group there. I would turn the entire backyard into a flower and vegetable garden. I need a pond. No, I need a much larger pond. And a fountain. ” The gardening companies use perfect photos of their best plants and get close ups that we cannot reproduce in our own yards (unless we look at plants from 3 inches away).
Now I am in worse shape than ever. I ordered from several companies last year. This year I have every catalogue imaginable and wonderful weather for gardening. The high temperatures will be in the 70s this week and spring is just around the corner. I should be outside now, mowing down the shepherd’s purse that found my front yard such a delight. I have decided to paint a sign instead: “Rare wildflowers. Picking is absolutely forbidden.” That should clear up the problem in a week.
I made several mistakes in the front yard. First of all, I was talked into planting rye for the winter. I bought a $15 bag, far too high a price, especially when I learned what I was really doing. They say, “Plant rye twice.” And why? The birds land in the yard and eat most of the seed. The result is a patchy lawn that needs watering for the winter. Otherwise, the established grass would have just gone dormant in the sub-70 degree weather. I could have bought another $15 bag, but I would rather pay less for bird seed. I get 40 pounds of sunflower seed for $10. At least then we are honest about buying food for the birds. Now that I am watering my patchy rye lawn, I am promoting the growth of shepherd’s purse, a plant with a marvelous ability to create seed. Would that the birds went for shepherd’s purse they way they scrounge for rye. Perhaps I should put up a sign and say, “Attention, birds. Do not eat shepherd’s purse seed.”
Many gardeners look at one species or another as a terrible burden. For instance, butterfly fanatics are supposed to shoo away birds that might eat the juicy caterpillars. They are advised to buy a hungry cat, a feral cat if possible. Bird lovers must never own a cat. They should buy a dog to keep cats away from the birds. We now live in a squirrel free area, but many bird lovers hate squirrels for their enormous appetite for seed. I have come to the conclusion that we should feed all the critters and let God sort out the proper balance.
Some may think that children are pests in the garden. I think gardens are made for children. When I helped put in one garden, I had—at various times—two children and two dogs in the hole I dug. Who else is so interested in everything we are doing? Who else is so eager to learn? A child will bring home a dandelion for his mother to put in a vase. An adult will spray the same herb with broad leaf weed killer. Which person appreciates Creation more? The colonists brought dandelion over as an herb, to use the leaves in salad and the roots to make a coffee substitute. The blooms are sweeter than clover and make a potent wine. It is not the dandelion’s fault that America created the ideal environment for growth: grassy lawns with plenty of water. I have not seen a dandelion in my yard in Phoenix and I miss them. Squirrels, too. Really. We seldom value what we have in abundance. Thus God’s grace is taken for granted. If we do not receive severe blows from the Law, we lose the Gospel through indifference and hardness of heart.
Now that we own a dog, I can say without fear of contradiction that a dog is more destructive than 10 children. Today I found the Sheltie tearing up a poinsettia potted plant because she has an addiction to empty plant pots. She carries them in her jaws and plays with them, often late at night. (Precious is the star of “Every Dog a Minister” on the Very Unofficial WELS site: http://www3.cybercities.com/e/efficaciousword/index.html.)
The snowbound are looking at their catalogues right now. Here are some suggestions from my experience:
If you live in Many-snow-tah or other wintry states, God is already doing some gardening work for you. The snow has created an insulated blanket over the soil, building up moisture levels and keeping the best and finest soil particles from blowing away. Later, insects will burst into life just when baby birds are hatching and looking for juicy steaks, served very rare. Phoenix is so dry now, dryer than a Calvinist sermon, that the weeds are dying. If the drought continues, weeds will have to be transplanted from the Midwest.
The New Ulm/Mankato area is famous for bats and mosquitoes. Mosquitoes need plenty of water. Bats need shelter. Everyone had a bat story in New Ulm and Minnesota. Bats not only attended church but became charismatic during services, soaring and flapping away. I have seldom seen a mosquito here. Standing water soon dries up and the hatchery goes with it. They should protect mosquitoes here so we could enjoy more bats. It was a great experience to sit outside in New Ulm and watch the bats swoop and dive for meals at the close of day. Bats are harmless to humans. Their teeth are fierce looking but made only for munching insects. Learn to love bats. They are cute.
I marvel at the evolutionists who think that given conditions generate each special creature, whether plant or animal. The plants and animals not only know how to change themselves, they know why! Think of that concept. This plant grows its flower in this special way in order to get the bat to brush against the pollen and take it to another plant. That is a lot of thinking and adapting for a mere plant. If I were tall enough, I could be an IBM salesman, but that has not made me grow. (Yes, it’s true. IBM decided all salesmen must be tall, to be imposing to potential clients. One short man learned that and said, “That’s why I wasn’t hired. And that’s why all the IBM salesmen I knew were so tall!” Perhaps it is no longer policy at IBM, but it once was.)
I am still trying to impose a Minnesota garden on the Phoenix desert. So far the desert is winning. The cacti I planted are doing well with benign neglect. Most other plants have been under-watered or over-watered, with fatal results. I have to translate instructions. “Some shade” now means “north side of the house.” Full sun will cook almost any plant I normally grow, except for sunflowers.
The news today is that one area in New York state has minus 100 degree wind chill. (It’s so cold the politicians have their hands in their OWN pockets!) I remember minus 50 degree wind chill in New Ulm. We had two long stretches of minus 50 wind chill in the same winter. The next winter, an El Nino year, gave us a complete thaw in February. Minus 50 wind chill meant the house was never warm, even with all the furnaces going. We bought a space heater as a supplement and blew circuits in the old parsonage. I kept the car running when I went for groceries. No one could buy a frost plug, a heater for the radiator, used overnight. I bought one in time for the warm winter that followed.
I finished the Wormhaven Gardening Book during one blizzard. I learned something from the ultra cold. I had a corn cob feeder at the corner of my office window. When it was merely cold, the squirrels ate sloppily and scattered kernels on the ground. I didn’t mind, since the grackles did a fine job of cleaning up the ground. In normal winter weather, the squirrels sat on their little chair and ate daintily with folded front paws, as if saying grace for the bounty offered. Squirrels do not hibernate, so they get powerful hungry all winter. During the horrible winter, squirrel behavior changed. Daintiness was abandoned. They gnawed off each kernel of corn. Nothing fell to the ground. If some corn seeds got frozen into the water on the window sill, they gnawed that out of the ice.
We are just the same. When things are going well, we have a casual regard for the Means of Grace. Then a severe affliction comes along and we are starved for comfort, especially when the affliction seems to last forever. In those times every morsel of Gospel is desperately needed. We hunger and thirst for righteousness and thank God for His love, mercy, peace, and kindness.
Someone recently wrote, and I paraphrase, “With all the synods falling apart, where can anyone turn?”
I responded, “The Scriptures, the Book of Concord, Luther, Chemnitz, Chytraeus, Paul Gerhardt, Walther, Henry E. Jacobs, Krauth, Walther.” Affliction does not remove the treasure. Affliction makes us appreciate the treasure and reject the cheap alloys offered as a substitute.