Last fall, my husband added two raised beds to our garden. As a child, Rich loved walking into his parents’ yard and eating berries plucked from their raspberry patch. He wanted to give our kids (and himself) and same experience now.
He finished the beds in October, but planned to wait until spring to plant the bushes. Every time I looked out our back windows, the empty boxes struck me as barren and ugly, so I asked if he would mind me borrowing them for the winter. I figured we could fill them with spring flower bulbs and have an abundance of easy blooms in April. I hoped that having a gorgeous crop to look forward to would help me when I inevitably struggled through the bleak months of winter.
It turned into a family project. Normally, I am lousy at family projects. If there’s something that needs to be done, my nature is to just GET IT DONE. Take the shortest route from point A to point B. And the shortest route does not include corralling my husband and two teenagers, one of whom is the slowest guy on planet Earth, to the garden center to come to a consensus about which flowers to choose. I’d much rather make a solo trip while he is working and the kids are in school. But things went surprisingly easily.
We came home with two bags of bulbs: a 30-pack of assorted flowers, and a bag of 50 red tulips. Planting them couldn’t have been easier, because instead of struggling to dig individual holes in the ground, we simply filled the beds partway with soil, laid the bulbs out neatly, and then put a few more inches of soil on top. We planted 80 bulbs in about 20 minutes. It was so easy to picture how they’d look in April, bursting with life and color and beauty. I felt victorious.
The first sign of trouble appeared the next morning. Millie, our big dog, was reluctant to come back in the house after breakfast. It was dark outside, and her coat is mostly black, so I couldn’t see where she was or what she was doing. I figured she’d found a particularly fascinating smell, stick, or critter carcass left behind by the neighborhood cats. But after a few days of this, I noticed that each time she finally did reappear, she was coming from the corner of the yard where the raised beds sat. My heart sank as I took in the dirt on her chin, then lifted her jowls to reveal teeth caked with mud. The realization hit me in a flash: she’d turned our tulip stash into her snack cache.
I tried to survey the damage, but couldn’t tell from just looking how many bulbs Millie had eaten. It was too late to plant more, and I wouldn’t know where to add them anyway, so I figured my best bet was just to stop the feeding frenzy. I have some green chicken-wire fencing that I use to keep the dogs away from my hops vines in summer, so I staple-gunned it across the tops of the beds.
(Someday I will have hobbies that do not work directly against each another, but for now they all seem to conflict: I love gardening but my dogs destroy everything; I love drinking microbrews but would like to fit back into my jeans.)
Soon the snow was flying, and my thoughts turned to Christmas, and grocery lists, and homework, and the busyness of everyday life. But these last few weeks, as winter exhaled its last and the sun began to warm the earth, I’ve been searching the tulip beds for signs of life and wondering whether it all went down the tubes. Millie’s tubes.
Rich was out of town when I saw the first stem breaking through the soil. I texted him and the kids, celebrating the fact that we’d get to enjoy some of our flowers. As the days passed, more sprouts appeared. Then last week, Rich and our daughter, Jillian, went outside to check out the progress together. They returned with incredible news: although Millie had snacked her way through one of the beds, the other one – where we planted the bag of red tulips – had ALL FIFTY STEMS emerging from the soil. Every single one of those bulbs had evaded Millie, and the squirrels (who always think they know better than I do where things should be planted), and the arctic chill of a Pennsylvania winter.
Jillian excitedly told us that just that week in her agricultural science class, she’d been learning about germination rates, and her teacher said that 100% germination was practically unheard of. But I wasn’t thinking about the science and percentages of it all.
I was overwhelmed by the grace.
Despite the odds, the elements, and my dumb dog, we got…everything. More than we would ask for. More than we deserved. I felt like God was nudging me in the ribs, whispering, “watch this.”
We didn’t – couldn’t – do anything to deserve all that success. Or a giant lovable mutt who’d do her best to foil our plans. Or each other. But with some dirt, some plants, and our cast of characters, God showed me – again – the grace showered on my life.