“Lessons from a Plant,” July 6, 2021

You can learn things from watching a plant. And watching is more fun than weeding.

I might’ve been a gardener, if my mother had not forced me as a child to pick beans and okra and other stuff I never wanted to touch, let alone, eat.

Her garden was a haven, not only for beans and okra, but for beetles and worms and spiders and wasps, all sorts of creepy, crawly, nasty-looking vermin that loved to bite or sting or burrow into my skin.

I never timed it, but I’d swear an hour of gardening meant 10 minutes picking, 20 minutes wiping sweat and 30 minutes slapping bugs and mouthing words I’d never say out loud. More than once I saw a snake. My stepfather would laugh at me and say, “It’s just a garter snake, it won’t kill you!”

To me, snakes were no laughing matter. I kept a list in my Bible (where I thought God might be more likely to see it) of things that gave me pause.

Next to “garter snake” I wrote, “Nonpoisonous, but if it scares you to death, you’re still dead.”

Next to “garden,” I noted, “Stay out! Act sick! If need be, gag yourself and throw up!”

And next to my stepfather’s name, I wrote, “Buy a toy snake at the Five & Dime and hide it in the juniper bush where he hides his jar of moonshine.”

I would never do most of the things on that list. But I liked thinking about doing them.

Despite my distaste for gardening, I’ve gained a great respect for plants: For their infinite array of vegetables and fruits I’ve come to enjoy. For their fragrance and flowers that can brighten the saddest of places, even a headstone in a cemetery or a profoundly broken heart. And especially for how they make me smile. But I’m glad to leave gardening to my husband.

Recently I bought a hanging plant covered in dazzling purple flowers. I don’t know its name. I call it “Shirley” for my favorite aunt. “Shirl” for short.
To hang it, my husband would have had to drag a ladder to the patio and risk his life to climb up to reach a hook on the eave, while I held the ladder praying he didn’t fall and kill us both.

We tried easier spots. But Shirl really wanted to hang there. So I held the ladder as my husband climbed up, adjusted the chain and settled her on the hook.

I wish you could see her.

She looks like a ballerina in a frilly purple tutu, whirling and spinning, dancing on the wind. I like watching her through the window as I work on a column. But I find her a bit distracting.

A while ago, from the corner of my eye, I saw what looked like an army of black widow spiders crawling up the steps from the patio to our bedroom.

Talk about giving me pause. But to my relief, I soon realized it wasn’t spiders. It was only the shadows of Shirl’s flowers. Have you ever noticed how our darkest fears often turn out to be nothing but shadows?

Here are some other things I’ve learned watching plants:

_ Life can be a hard row to hoe. It helps to have help. Especially if he likes to garden.

_ Some people are like artichokes, prickly and tough. But with proper treatment, even an artichoke can be a treat.

_ If you have to hold a ladder, hold it tight and pray the person you are holding it for won’t fall and kill you both.

_ Children need love and encouragement and discipline the way plants need water and sunlight and weeding. Some need more, others less. Good parents (and grandparents) are like the best gardeners, always aiming for the perfect balance and delighting in the blooms.

_ Shadows may look like spiders but they’re only an absence of light. They’re harmless. Unless they distract you and keep you from working. Or cause you to trip and fall and break a leg.

Maybe we’ll move Shirl to a less distracting spot.


  1. Carol Rumple says

    We used this as the devotion for our women’s group this morning and it meant a lot to all of us. Your columns inspire us and spark good conversations! Thanks!

  2. Kate Sciacca says

    “To me, snakes were no laughing matter. I kept a list in my Bible (where I thought God might be more likely to see it) of things that gave me pause.
    Next to “garter snake” I wrote, “Nonpoisonous, but if it scares you to death, you’re still dead.”
    Hmmm…. Sounds like something Justine might say 😜😜

    I refer to my few living flowers and my basil as “my babies.” As in… “oh boy, are my babies dying of thirst????? AGAIN???”
    You learn a lot from gardens, we learn even more from you 😊. Happy Independence Day… one day late…

Speak Your Mind