On Wednesdays in my Meeting God in the Garden series, I feature guest interviews with other Christian gardeners. Today I want to introduce you to author Christie Purifoy.
Christie lives with her husband and four children at Maplehurst, an old, brick farmhouse in southeastern Pennsylvania. Her first book Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons was published by Revell on February 2, 2016.
In 2010, she received a PhD in English Literature from the University of Chicago. A few years later she traded the classroom for a picket-fenced garden and an old writing desk. Today, she grows zucchini her four children refuse to eat. The zucchini-loving chickens are perfectly happy with this arrangement.
Christie believes that life, in all its pain and beauty and mystery, is a journey of love. Writing keeps her eyes wide-open to this astonishing reality.
Q: Tell us about your own garden. What is your favorite kind of gardening (flower, vegetable, container, etc.) and why?
My answer to this question has shifted with the years and with the places I have called home. For a long while, I was a container gardener. We lived in a third-floor walkup apartment on the south side of Chicago and had only a small balcony off our kitchen door. I say “only,” but this private space with its sliver view of Lake Michigan was an urban luxury. I lined the railings with window boxes overflowing with petunias and hung baskets of tropical, shade-loving impatiens. I discovered that petunias become heavy with perfume after sunset in order to lure nocturnal insects. I learned that petunias need deadheading and impatiens should be cut back before they grow too leggy.
When we left the city, I began to cultivate dreams of a vegetable garden. I brought those dreams with me a few years later when we moved to our Pennsylvania farmhouse, and the vegetable garden, with its raised beds and white picket fence, was the first garden we built here. I grew flowers then only because I knew they would draw beneficial insects to my vegetables. I ringed my tomatoes with marigolds, and I stuck a few zinnias and sunflowers in the corners.
But everything changed for me when, on a whim, I ordered a half-dozen dahlia tubers. Those dahlias were a revelation to me. Now I have a formal flower garden even larger than my vegetable patch, and every year I threaten to turn every one of my vegetable raised beds over to cutting flowers. I think it is only my love for fingerling potatoes, and my youngest child’s love for cherry tomatoes that has stopped me from doing exactly that. But flowers have my heart. Oh, and the strawberries. I can’t imagine June without a bed of strawberries.
Q: What spiritual lessons has God taught you through gardening?
I always resist thinking of the garden as a space for learning lessons. A garden is so full of glory, I can’t possibly think of it as some sort of spiritual classroom. And yet, in many ways, it is.
The garden has taught me more about God’s goodness and his provision. But it also torments me with grief, for instance my beloved magnolia did not bloom this year because February warmth teased open the buds and March cold froze them to mush.
But most of all, the garden is where I confront myself. It is the place where I cannot escape myself. In the garden, I come face to face with my impatience (how slow growing is this tree?) or my anxiety (will it ever rain again?). In the garden, I confront my selfishness (I would rather stay out late deadheading roses every evening than go inside to serve my children dinner), and I do battle with my own desire for control.
The garden teaches me how fleeting life is. I work so hard to create beauty, but I know that if I stopped working, even for a few months, the garden would be lost to weeds and brambles. And yet, the ephemeral beauties of a garden are one of life’s greatest gifts. There is some mystery in that I will pursue for the rest of my days.
Q: In this year’s gardening season, what challenges do you face? How do they correlate with your faith?
Recently, a good friend was telling me about the busy season she finds herself in with her work and family. She explained that she didn’t feel led to cut back or say no more often, but, instead, she felt called to pray for greater capacity. I was really struck by this, especially because I rarely, if ever, face challenging, high-intensity seasons of life in this way. Yet I am feeling this nudge in the garden, and I think it correlates with what God is asking of me in other areas of my life right now.
We have a highly visible spot in our garden that has hosted a weed party ever since we had a large stump dug out. I’ve long had plans for this spot, but they are ambitious, involving a dry-stacked stone wall as edging and quite a few loads of topsoil and compost. I can see the result in my mind, but I can also feel the effort in my body. Because the hard work of the project overwhelms me, I have put it off year to year. A few weeks ago, as I cleaned out the remains of the pokeweed that grew in that spot last summer, I felt a strong sense that I needed to make a change now. This year. And yet the thought of tackling so much, especially when we still have other, unfinished projects going on, leaves me feeling anxious and inadequate.
If I am honest, I feel anxious and inadequate about quite a few areas of my life right now. What would it look like for me to tackle the work head-on? Not with fear and attempts at avoiding effort and not with a self-protective sense that I need to do less. What would it look like to attempt more while praying for a greater capacity? Well, I’m not exactly sure, but I think I’ll be learning that lesson in my garden this summer. Stay tuned! I have a feeling it involves all those extra zinnia seedlings I started under grow lights in my basement this year.
Thank you Christie for this lovely interview and these beautiful photos!
Read another gardening post from Christie’s blog:
How is a garden’s ephemeral beauty a great gift for you?
How has a garden taught you about God’s goodness and provision?
How can your anxiety and feelings of inadequacy provide opportunities for spiritual growth?
Join me tomorrow for another post in my Meeting God in the Garden series! In the meantime, learn how I weed my heart’s garden and how the right soil makes all the difference.
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