Garden Notes: A Harvest to Remember (and a winner!)


If he was still alive, my Grandpa Phillips would have turned 118 today. Born in 1898, he died in 1999 just before his 101st birthday. Our Jeffrey, who carries Grandpa’s name as his middle (“I want to name the baby after you,” I told him. “What’s your middle name?” He laughed and said, “I wasn’t important enough to have a middle name.” So, Jeffrey Ray it is.) wasn’t quite four months old when this part of his namesake passed. They met only one time before Grandpa fell ill. I have a picture of Grandpa beaming, a bundle of baby in his arms. Grandpa was a stubborn, independent, loving soul. He lived alone until the last year of his life. Even when arthritis and vertigo plagued him, he resisted moving in with my aunt as long as he could. He lived life on his own terms—farmer, father of nine, lover of automobiles and babies—I still miss him sometimes. His wife—my Grandma—died when I was five years old. He lived another 25 years without his beloved. One time I asked him why he never remarried. “I didn’t want anyone but my old woman,” he said, tears in his eyes.

When I was a little girl, Grandpa had the biggest, most beautiful garden. I remember staring wide-eyed at his strawberries every summer; I remember Grandma’s well-stocked pantry of home-canned goods.

Last night, I pulled up what was left of my pole beans. They were still producing, petite white blooms speaking promise here and there. But the Mexican bean beetles had made lace out of every heart shaped leaf on the vine. I spent two hours pulling up the beans by root, searching out the beetle larvae and destroying it. Then I cleared the bed of any leaf debris, hoping to deter any overwintering beetles.

It’s been a bad summer for my garden. As I looked out over my little patch of land I wondered if Grandpa ever had such a sad harvest. Something inside me felt like I’d let him down. I’ve had little energy to nurture the tender shoots of growing things these past few months. I’ve had little energy for much other than what is required.

This week our women’s group begins a new Bible study on the life of Nehemiah. In preparation I’ve been reading through that book of the Bible, freshening my memory to the details of Nehemiah’s story. Nehemiah felt moved to leave a prestigious position in Susa to lead the Jews in rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem. At one point, in fear of attack from their enemies, Nehemiah says,

From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried material did their worked with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. … Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.” (Neh. 4:16-18, 23)

How does one rebuild a thing while constantly standing guard? When you can’t even take a drink of water for fear of being ambushed by one thing or another?

Did my grandfather ever stand looking out over the garden of his life and wonder if what he was building would ever hold up? He lived through the Great Depression, two world wars, the struggle for civil rights, free love, and raising nine kids. His oldest son was a prisoner of war during the Korean Conflict, for Pete’s sake. His youngest son married at age 18—to a 16-year-old girl (my mother). He lost his wife of 53 years to cancer. And remained faithful to a memory for another 25.

And yet, in my memory he is always smiling.

The word remember is mentioned frequently in the book of Nehemiah. I’m paying attention to that. Today I’m remembering my Grandpa—Ray Phillips. And remembering feels like a rich harvest.

The winner of Laurie Klein’s beautiful book of poetry, Where the Sky Opens is Dolly! Yay, Dolly :). I’ll be in touch soon :).


31-is Days of Prayer: A Prayer-Poem for Harvest

 Hurrahing in Harvest

SUMMER ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.

                                                 —Gerard Manley Hopkins 

Playdates with God: Harvest

We’ve been enjoying the garden; canning, cooking, eating from her table. This is a post from last summer when we were deep in the same. Makes me hungry…

The garden’s days are waning but still the tomato plants are heavy with fruit. There are mounds of peppers and some cucumbers too. So Sunday after church, Jeff and I spend the afternoon in the kitchen. We seed and core tomatoes for the puree, dice, chop, and roast until our valley home is filled with the aroma of love.

The spaghetti sauce simmers and I get out our favorite book of salsa recipes. Something must be done with all these jalapeno peppers. The basil is looking peaky too, so I dig around in the cupboard to see what I have to make pesto with. There are no pine nuts, but pecans will make a rich blend, so I press the garlic into the processor and think heaven must smell like an Italian deli. The pesto goes into an ice cube tray for freezing individual portions.

Jeff and I stand side by side and scoop fresh salsa onto tortilla chips—I like it spicy but he prefers the mild. We can some of it to keep for the winter, along with the spaghetti sauce, and my eyes are full for the blessings of the vine. The pickles will have to wait for a bulkier yield, but I dice up a cucumber for a salad at dinner time and taste clean joy.

It’s a delicious way to open the eyes to the world around, I think. A delicious way to unfold. But we are not ready to open to full bloom just yet. This place of tender love is sweet medicine.

Besides…there are still more tomatoes.

How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

The Playdates button:

The Garden Gives Back

It’s that time of year again…the garden gives back for all those weeks you tenderly cajoled, pleaded, and toiled. Right now? Time in the kitchen feels like love and basil pesto is the summer valentine. And, mmmmmmm, it smells so good while you are making it. I freeze mine in ice cube trays, pop them out, and store in freezer bags. Wha-la! Individual portions anytime you need one. Excellent for a quick pesto pizza, to toss in with some pasta, or just for dipping fresh Italian bread.

If I don’t have pine nuts, I’ll use whatever I have on hand. Walnuts and pecans make for a richer sauce, but what’s not to love about that? And for me? The more garlic, the better. And just for fun, why not try a different kind of cheese? There’s no wrong way to make a pesto.

Makes my mouth water just thinking about it :).


They are careful in their harvest.

For some are not ready.

Not all will be chosen.

Fingers search.

Eyes scrutinize.

Only the sweetest will be picked.

Meadow grasses are pushed aside and leaves are overturned.

They are searching for a treasure.

They will not stop until they are sure.

Every fat, luscious berry will be plucked from stem.

Such diligence has a sweet reward.

So sweet it melts in the mouth.

But that must wait until the harvest is done.

They will not stop until they have searched every bush. They will not pause until every square inch of the patch is explored.

They will find every one that is ready.

And so will He.

Keep planting your seeds, Dear Ones. Let the harvest be heavy.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6)