THINGS I LEARNED IN THE GARDEN ~ Flower Bed Character Building

I’m not much of a gardener. By both interest and allergies, I’d rather look at flowers from a distance. But last summer I began pitching in with gardening chores to help my overwhelmed husband. After all, I no longer had the excuse of toddlers and babies to look after. And, to my surprise, I found that God had many lessons waiting for me in the garden. The parables of Jesus took on a fresh meaning as I grubbed in the dirt.

It’s fun in early spring to leaf through seed catalogs and browse at the local nurseries and discount stores, planning where each flower, shrub, and tree will be planted. The planning and planting are the easy parts of the job. The on-going management is what gets me down: the watering, the feeding, and, especially, the weeding.

At first I kept after the weeding, pulling the little invaders out by the roots. But as the summer heated up, I found myself procrastinating until the weeds were pretty well entrenched. When they began shading the flowers from the sunlight, I no longer had a choice. It had been so easy earlier in the season. By the time I finally tackled them, I could no longer pull them out by the roots—I could only slice them off below the soil line and know that they would return to greet me again another day.

I was reminded as I braced to pull a huge weed with both hands that gardening is much like raising children. It is much more effective to correct our children promptly than to let the weeds of laziness, sassing, and disobedience grow. If we allow these and other character faults to take root, they soon go to seed and multiply, inviting other faults to join them. Procrastination in discipline, as in the garden, not only leads to more work for the gardener, but endangers the health of the plants. I am thankful that, by God’s grace, I have raised my children with more care than my garden. I recognized the importance of correcting them as we went through the day, not saving it up for “when Daddy gets home” or to confess at church on Sunday.

Homeschooling makes you a full-time, 24/7 parent. You have greater influence on your child than a part-time parent because you are with him so much. In the first eight years of homeschooling alone, you will spend a total of two and one-half more years of waking hours with your child than if you had sent him away to be educated. But because you are with him so much, he tends to take on not only your good character qualities, but also your weaknesses. Ask God to gently point out your own faults and to give you the grace to conquer them, both for your sake and for your child’s sake.

My husband spreads bark or wood chips in our flower beds to retain moisture and to keep down the weed growth. Likewise, we can incorporate protective strategies into our homes—approaches that help both our children and ourselves to avoid activities displeasing to the Lord. Policies that encourage regular time for private and family devotions, limit TV and Internet usage, and carefully monitor friendships are among those that protect our families from the invading weeds of wrong priorities, wasted time, lustful thoughts, and the companionship of fools.

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to pull weeds when the soil is damp? And you’re more likely to get the roots out, too, instead of just breaking the weeds off at ground level. Likewise, it is easier to remove our Bad Habits-Faults-Sins when we are regularly washed by the water of the Word. God’s Word softens the soil of our hearts, making it easier for the Master Gardener to remove from our lives those things that displease Him.

Sometimes even good plants grow outside the boundaries of the garden. Elm trees thrive in our area—we had to pull out over a hundred seedlings this last spring so they wouldn’t choke out other trees and shrubs. Grass, too, often grows in the wrong places– in the cracks of sidewalks and in flower beds.

This reminds me of when I take on tasks and projects that God hasn’t called me to do. The projects in themselves may be good, but He hasn’t planted them in my garden—I have! They are often weeds such as dandelions or purple top, masquerading as flowers. They look great, but will quickly dominate the garden of my life if not dealt with promptly.

When I realize this, I must ask Him to help me remove these trespassers of busy-ness in my life. We have to keep weeding them out or they get so big they require a saw to get them cut down—and the roots are still there, threatening to spring up when we let down our guard. Sometimes God must do soul surgery to dig out our long-entrenched faults and busy-nesses. Without His faithful weeding and pruning, we get as woody as never-pruned rose bushes.

While in my garden, I learned that some plants produce more flowers if the old blossoms are pinched off. This is called dead-heading. Daily removing the spent flowers is like giving the glory of the day’s achievements back to the Lord, acknowledging that only in Him do we achieve anything of value. We should avoid living only in past victories or dwelling on years-old testimonies, instead growing new flowers to acknowledge His daily grace in our lives. The Lord wants to give us fresh evidences of His mercies every day.

As I spend more time outside, I am learning that various varieties of flowers thrive in different locations. Some plants do better in acidic soil, others in clay. Some blossom in direct sun, others require the protection of shade.

Just as the Creator didn’t make only roses, daisies, or marigolds, He doesn’t use a cookie cutter when designing our children either. People are created to grow different flowers and fruits. Each temperament (personality type) best grows certain kinds of flowers. Each type also is more susceptible to certain kinds of weeds.

The artistic, perfectionist melancholy grows lovely delicate roses, but is susceptible to the weeds of a critical spirit and a fearful heart. Happy-go-lucky sanguines have friends and flowers everywhere—sometimes wildflowers—but their roots aren’t deep and they easily wither in the scorching sun of neglect. The tough-minded choleric grows almost anywhere but may crowd out the more delicate plants. The easy-going phlegmatic gets along with the others but may be overwhelmed by the rowdier plants. Knowing more about our child’s inborn temperament traits can help us to guard him from the weaknesses of his temperament and to cultivate his strengths.i

The whole gardening process reminds me of the homeschooling year. Starting at the state conference in the spring, homeschooling moms eagerly look through catalogs, browse the local nursery (AKA the Exhibit Hall), and check the discount stores–friends, used curriculum fairs, and the Internet–for curriculum for the upcoming school year. As fall approaches, there is heightened excitement as new routines, schedules, and lesson plans fly from Mom’s mind to the family’s ears. My own children learned to brace themselves for all of my new plans each year. They also learned that my enthusiasm and energy faded rather quickly. Management and follow-through are always tougher than goal-setting, just like in gardening.

Think about the best position for pulling weeds. It’s kneeling, right? You can pull an occasional weed by leaning over to give it a yank as you pass by, but to really do a thorough job of weeding, kneeling is the preferred posture. Isn’t this true of discipling our children, also? It requires much prayer and humility to develop character—in them and in us. Being a parent will put you on your knees. Homeschooling will keep you there. May this year’s garden yield an exceptional crop of character in your home.

©2005 by Marcia K. Washburn. This article was originally published in the Third Qtr. 2005 CHEC Update and is used by permission. Mrs. Washburn writes from her nineteen years of experience homeschooling five sons. Request a free copy of Encouragement for Homeschool Moms from Marcia at For more on discipling children, see Managing Your Children from her Management for Moms series at .

i For more information about temperament types, see Tim LaHaye’s classic book, Why You Act the Way You Do (Tyndale: 1988)