Gospel Principles For Gardening

By Heidi Fargo

Years ago, I attended a gardening class. I’m sure there was some great advice, ideas, and tips shared. But I don’t remember any of that. What I do remember is the instructor describing his beautiful backyard garden – terraced raised beds filled with a bountiful harvest of veggies – that he had recently torn out a few years later after building it all. I remember being horrified. Why would you do all that work and create something so beautiful and productive and then destroy it after such a short time? It seemed especially awful to me since we were in the process of creating our own garden with rows of raised beds and gravel lined paths and I was very aware of the expense, time and work involved. We would never be like that instructor. Right? Wrong. Fast forward several years later and there we were, ripping out our raised beds and shoveling out the gravel wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow.

In the scriptures, we often read analogies about gardens, seeds, planting, etc. that teach gospel principles. As I’ve thought about what I could possibly share about gardening (since I’m definitely not an expert), I thought maybe the best thing to do would be to take gospel principles and apply them to gardening.

Become as a little child

Children are natural learners. They have all the traits that lead to easily gaining and absorbing knowledge. They’re curious, inquisitive, flexible, and adaptable. They have, almost by definition, soft hearts and open minds. I know as I’ve aged I’ve lost a good deal of that. I still love to learn, but I also love feeling like I’ve arrived, like I’ve figured something out.

In my story, I was so proud of the beautiful garden we created. I thought it was lovely. There was something so peaceful about walking into our garden space. I just knew this was “the way” to garden. When my husband tried to persuade me years later that we could grow so much more if we took out the raised beds and moved to gardening in rows, I was absolutely resistant. All of our hard work! All of the expense! Out the window! It took months before I was persuaded. But when the spring came and we were clearing everything out, I had come to terms with it and I was fine. Now I see his wisdom and appreciate how willing he was to see the potential for something more.

I love how Alma encouraged the Zoramites to “experiment upon my word” (RE Alma 16:27). So much of gardening requires experimentation. And so much of experimentation requires those childlike qualities, especially curiosity and recognizing learning opportunities (what some adults might call “failures”).

One of the things we’ve experimented with more in the last couple of years is succession planting. When one veggie has done its thing, we pull it out and plant something new in the same space. A couple of years ago, we planted several rows of peas in our caterpillar tunnel. They did really well. And when they were done, we pulled them out and planted pumpkins, squash and melons in their place. Knowing that peas are nitrogen fixing, we were excited to see how well everything would do in that space. Well, we grew some of the most beautiful, pumpkin-less plants you’ve ever seen. Who knew that too much nitrogen would produce vigorous leaf production, but cause the plants not to produce fruit? We do now.

As we learn more, there is, at least for me, the temptation still to think we’ve arrived. But each year there is something new, something more to learn (especially since my husband has an insatiable curiosity!). We’ve gone from tilling our garden beds with a standard roto-tiller to using a broadfork to lift and aerate the soil while preserving the soil structure. We’ve switched from synthetic and chemical fertilizers and insecticides to using natural, organic products and picking off some bugs one at a time ourselves. We’ve known the importance of soil from the beginning, but are learning much more each year about compost, composting and the importance of living soil.

Faith, diligence and patience

            We’ve tried to make gardening a family affair. Our kids are like most kids, though. They don’t necessarily relish yardwork. But once we all get going on something, there are some happy and good family moments. I’ve overheard some great conversations happen as the kids help my husband plant tiny tomato and pepper seeds in seed trays in late February or early March. It’s usually cold that time of year; sometimes there’s snow on the ground. And it’s hard to imagine hot, sunny days, let alone red, ripe tomatoes and peppers. But we do it anyway and the hope of spring and gardens begins.

            Moroni taught, “By faith they did lay hold upon every good thing” (RE Moroni 7:4), and that is definitely true with gardening. It takes faith to plant those seeds on cold winter days. It takes faith to work the ground. It takes faith at each step until you finally start to see things grow and blossom and produce.

            And it takes diligence. My husband is a good example of this one too. I make fun of him for being a little nerdy about gardening. He makes detailed spreadsheets (kind of like this one or this one) that lay out when seeds should be started inside or outside, when trays should be brought out for hardening off, when to harvest, etc. But once the spreadsheet is made then we know what to do and when. At that point, it’s just a matter of diligence, being obedient to the plan even when we don’t feel like it (which is a lot of the time).

Alma used the principles of growing plants to explain the spiritual process of developing faith and knowledge: “But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith, with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold, it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. And because of your diligence, and your faith, and your patience with the word, in nourishing it that it may take root in you, behold, by and by, ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure.”

Thank the Lord in all things

            I give my kids a hard time for grumbling about yard work, but sometimes I’m just as bad as they are. Sometimes it’s exhausting work and can leave me feeling tired, sweaty and sore. Sometimes I feel like I’m too busy to get out there. And sometimes it’s really overwhelming, especially after going away on a vacation and coming back to so many weeds and bugs. But most of the time, once I’m in it, I really enjoy the work. To me, it’s therapeutic and a time to connect with God. And unlike work inside my house, I don’t do it alone. As Paul said:

“I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants anything, neither he that waters, but God that gives the increase. Now he that plants and he that waters are one. And every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor, for we are laborers together with God” (RE 1 Cor. 1:10).

            And I’m learning to be thankful for all of it. That’s what the Lord tells us to do: “You shall thank the Lord your God in all things” (T&C 46:2). So when we grow big beautiful onions I’m grateful to God and when  we grow mostly small ones, I’m thankful for the harvest. And either way, it’s incredible to look at those onion layers and think about God and His designs.

At this point in my gardening journey, I’m even thankful for the weeds. They’ve taught me a lot of truths and opened my eyes to important lessons about my life, the gospel and relationships. It turns out they also have incredible health and nutritional value. To think that the most nutritious vegetable we grow is one we don’t even have to plant. You might be lucky and have some purslane growing in your backyard too.

I’m thankful for what gardening has taught my kids. Yes, sometimes they complain and grumble, but sometimes they marvel at the first tiny shoots or wonder and ask fantastic questions. Sometimes, they fight and point out why it’s unfair that their sibling got that job and they didn’t, but other times they work together beautifully and chat and laugh and smile. Sometimes, they ask why they have to harvest the tomatoes because they hate tomatoes, but other times they’ll surprise me and rip off a piece of kale and say how delicious it is.

I’m thankful for the chance to share our bounty. During 2020, we set up a little veggie stand and sold fruits, veggies and eggs to friends, family, neighbors and strangers. It was a time when most people weren’t going out much or getting together with people they loved. Our little stand felt like a reprieve from the craziness of everything going on and a reminder that we were still a part of a community. And there’s something very satisfying about knowing other people are enjoying what you’ve worked so hard to grow. I’m thankful for our garden. I’m thankful for sunkissed, still-warm strawberries on a summer afternoon. I’m thankful for juicy, ripe tomatoes. I’m thankful for potatoes and leeks and green beans and crisp lettuce and cucumbers. And garlic! Oh, I love garlic from our garden. I’m thankful for the hard work it all requires and the way it’s helped me grow.  I’m grateful for the work that each member of my family contributes to make it all possible. And I’m thankful to God for giving us the increase and for teaching us of His ways as we try to labor with Him.