A love note to Mother Earth

Planting the sedum in the landscaping around my house this weekend.

I spent nearly the whole weekend gardening. This began with plant shopping, which I’m good at. Here’s my process.

I begin by doing research in books and on the internet to identify the best choices for the spots I want to fill, taking into account sun, shade, wind, and desired color and texture pairings. Then I enter the greenhouse and wander enchanted amongst the plants. And after a while, I leave with a car full of plants that were not on my list. But somehow this works for me. At least it makes me very happy.

And then comes working with dirt. Let me say that gardening in Indiana is a whole different thing than gardening in upstate New York, where we lived before moving to Goshen. The soil here is amazing. And I am further equipped with the magical composted “duck doo doo” that I get from my dad, and a 10-pound bag of worm castings from College Mennonite Church youth group’s Casting Hope project.

One of the great things about gardening is that the garden talks back. I am constantly learning what works and what doesn’t work, grappling with the realities of my garden and myself, and yielding to them. I would dearly love to have two or three enormous rhododendrons, but I am learning that they are not so happy in our yard. Also, one of my favorite plants, Lady’s Mantle, apparently prefers the shady clayey setting of Ithaca, New York, to our sunny, loamy spot here. Fascinating!

Here are a few plants that are talking back to me with abundance:

  • Sedum. They seem to thrive wherever I plant them, even in pots. I have six varieties growing at the moment, of all different colors and sizes. If you need a gardening confidence boost, plant sedum. I’ll be glad to give you some.
  • Blackberries. Our three-year-old patch is teaching me why they are considered an invasive species! But I admire their muscular enthusiasm and the fact that I now have to fight with them to contain them. I do like a good argument. Yesterday I cut out yards and yards of old brambles. Thankfully they are thornless.
  • Serviceberries. I bought mine from a local nursery run by GC alum Mark Myers ’85, whom I have come to regard as a kind of professor of trees. When I ask him about a tree species, before he gives me his opinion, he takes time to tell me what he learned from his GC professor Frank Bishop about that tree, and also what Aaron Sawatsky Kingsley (1997 GC alum and the director of environmental resilience for the City of Goshen) might say. Mark’s view of the serviceberry tree: “There’s just nothing I don’t like about that tree.” I agree.

Mother’s Day weekend is a fitting time to honor Mother Earth, the face of nearly everything we know and are made of. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that she keeps caring for us despite our failures. Indigenous author and biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer brings this home to us in her book, “Braiding Sweetgrass”:

.  .  .  .  I knew it with a certainty as warm and clear as the September sunshine. The land loves us back. She loves us with beans and tomatoes, with roasting ears and blackberries and birdsongs. By a shower of gifts and a heavy rain of lessons. She provides for us and teaches us to provide for ourselves. That’s what good mothers do.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Rebecca Stoltzfus