Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce.Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.
I’m not a gardener. Yet.
I do love nature, and have immense respect for the plants that grow out of the ground without much intervention, those behemoth old growth firs along the Pacific Crest Trail, salmonberry bushes that winter over under several yards of snow and several hundred skiers, or the stubborn bluebells that return to my parents’ yard year after year, lawnmowers be damned. Plants are amazing.
Despite all this, I haven’t been terribly motivated by growing plants myself. Well-meaning students would give me potted flowers and I’d inwardly groan, anticipating the agonizing death that this living thing was about to endure on my watch. I tested the limits of succulents recently and learned that yes, with just the proper amount of neglect, you can wither those supple leaves to nothing. I am really good at keeping my family alive, and really bad with the plants.
Gardening is even more fraught than my woeful failures with house plants. I remember painful hours spend weeding as a child and adolescent. That seemed like all it was about, gardening, just pulling out clovers until you or the plants die. Weeding was not worth the paltry sum paid to me for this task; why on earth would I do it for free? As what, recreation? No thank you. I’ll do… almost anything else.
Still, I love gardens. I’m in awe of these well-established gardens, lush places where one can go and just find a handful of carrots, a head of lettuce, a dozen zucchini, and turn them into something tasty. The farm where I lived and worked in Austria for a summer had such a garden, and harvesting and then coming up with uses for the produce was one of my favorite tasks. Pay attention to what’s growing, the frugal farmers told me, and make sure that we don’t miss out on anything we can use. There was a connection to the land, the seasons, to life itself, that I found refreshing and invigorating, stepping off of the five-day school week treadmill and onto something slower, more complicated, less predictable.
I remember a friend in college planting an elaborate vegetable garden beside the house we were renting. We were six girls in our junior and senior years at SPU, nursing and English and education and theology students, and we were renting this house in Ballard (for $1600, imagine!), figuring out how to fully take care of ourselves for the first time outside of the dorms. We suspected that we’d all go our separate ways after this year, as jobs and relationships inevitably dissolved fellowships like these, but for a year we were living in this house with a spacious yard and a nice deck. And one of my roommates decided to plant some vegetables—in the spring—before we all moved out in September. Madness, I thought. We don’t own this ground; why would you try to grow something in it?
Thirteen years later, I bring my baby outside with me to the little corner of behind our house, where my husband has cleared out a jungle of a flowerbed and planted several potted herbs. He and Luci break open a fragrant bag of dark, manure-laced soil, and they take turns spreading it out with a shovel. Luci bends down to peer at the oregano nestled in its little hole, pushes on the shovel with a rubber-booted foot. They turn to the side of the house, where three tomato plants await their new homes and wire cages, and Timmy explains that the nearest one, the cherry tomatoes, will taste “just like candy,” his long-shot bid to get our daughter to try them.
As I sit down in a plastic Adirondack chair, my husband tours me around the little plot, pointing out the different varieties and explaining the ones that do and don’t need sun. I find myself getting excited about sun-warmed fresh tomatoes and thyme I can harvest whenever I want, instead of watching a plastic box from the grocery store turn brown when I only needed a tablespoon of fresh leaves. The dirt smells like the fields outside of Kandern, our German village home, fragrant and fertile, and for a moment I’m suspended between homesickness for the past and eagerness for the future, a summer in Seattle uninterrupted by moving house or pregnancy.
It’s been almost a year since we left the vineyard-striped hills, familiar faces and foreign words of Kandern behind for the wild mountains, shining waters and crowded streets of Seattle. Leaving Black Forest Academy, and the English-speaking expat community of Kandern, meant leaving friends, work and places that we loved. Somewhere in my mind, just barely whispered, was the hope that in exchange for this great sacrifice—our beautiful but by-nature transient life there—this move would bring permanence, security, an arrived-ness that we’ve been missing.
The reality, as always, has been more complicated than that simple transaction, wanderlust exchanged for rootedness. Our family has grown by one, our Seattle-born daughter claiming just this one home. We’ve been welcomed by family and found community with friends. We have lived in two places, both good and somewhat miraculous in different ways. I’ve remembered what I love about this city, discovering and appreciating it again through the eyes of my husband and children.
And yet permanence eludes us, as we search and wait for the right jobs, the “forever house,” the reliable schools to return us, in a few years, to an academic schedule. I don’t know exactly what any of it will look like, or when it will come to pass, and I’m starting to believe that, like so many other aspects of my life, that season will turn out very differently than I imagine it from this side. But, in any case, we’re not there yet.
Which brings me back to the tiny garden, a little patch of ground filled with a few literal roots, planted by my hopeful husband. Where I once spent a solid twenty minutes weighing the pros and cons of buying an immersion blender in Germany—with a plug that all but guaranteed that I’d need to get ride of this thing someday—he tends to dig in and flourish wherever he is. It doesn’t matter how long this will be our garden; what matters is that we enjoy it, right now, without worrying about what we’ll leave behind and when.
“Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce,” the prophet Jeremiah instructed the exiles in Jerusalem, long ago. Live here long enough to grow things, he said. He must have known about gardening, practice of patience and hope, an investment in the land for however long you’re allowed to occupy it. And that’s precisely what he asked them to do; invest in hope, without knowing what comes next.
“Look at these!” my husband exclaims, shaking an envelope of seeds at me. “Lupines! We can plant them now, but they won’t bloom until next summer. I was thinking we could surprise Luci!” he continues, in unspoken reference to Miss Rumphius, one of our favorite books about a lady who plants lupines all over the countryside “to make the world more beautiful.” And that’s what he’s done today. By planting a garden, he’s built a home, making our world more beautiful, one potted basil plant at a time.