Christie Purifoy has called the city, the suburbs, and the countryside home, but it was an old red brick farmhouse in Pennsylvania that finally convinced her the trees really do sing songs of joy, and we are—always and in every place—invited to join in. Her lyrical new book Placemaker is a call to tend the soul, the land, and the places we share with one another. As Christie discovered, if you tend the land with others in mind, you might just find grace growing in a garden. It’s a grace to welcome Christie to the farm’s front porch today…
It isn’t easy to spend money and have only flowers to show for it.
It isn’t like a donation to a charity. It isn’t like a deposit in a savings account. A flower isn’t even a carrot. I cannot fill my stew pot with flowers.
That first winter of our flower garden dream, the balance on our bank statement dwindled with the purchase of each bare-root rose and lily bulb, yet the view from the parlor window remained the same: bleak and brown.
Dreams ask for commitment. They require a running leap.
There could be no going back. In a month or two, cardboard boxes labeled “fragile,” “this side up,” and “live plants” would begin showing up on the porch near the back door.
I looked forward to planting antique roses with beautiful names and romantic histories yet still I worried.
Even if this flower garden dream is one day realized, even if the roses take root and grow, will Jonathan and I say it was worthwhile?
Spring arrives in the garden long before it arrives anywhere else. As soon as the last snow melted, as soon as the muck began to thaw, we were out in it.
Jonathan built a fence. Together we marked the paths with twine and a few well-placed stakes. With freezing hands I buried lily bulbs and the woody bare roots of roses along the edges of the still-theoretical paths.
I tended seedlings in the basement. Zinnias, in white and salmon-pink, cosmos, sweet-scented alyssum, and laceflowers stretched beneath the faux sunlight of fluorescent shop lights.
My gardening books talk of plant combinations and color palettes, but designing a garden is all so much more uncertain than paint on a canvas or words on a page.
With the help of my sister Kelli, my father, and many books, I chose my varieties with care, but I could not know then that the newly amended soil would be too fertile for cosmos and laceflowers—the cosmos would grow into feathery green monsters but never bloom, and the laceflowers would leap and flower but quickly rot away. I could not know that the salmon-pink zinnias would turn out to be more of a garish orange.
I could not know that the white zinnias would glow in the evening like moonlight and starlight and magic.
We hosted an Easter egg hunt for our neighbors, as we had done every year since our first spring at Maplehurst. Nothing yet grew in the garden except candy-filled eggs and tiny green boxwood shrubs. Paths were merely the suggestion of rain-sodden string.
“What is that?” my neighbors asked, pointing toward the great brown square. “What are you doing?”
“Dreaming,” I did not answer them.
“Hoping,” I did not say.
“That’s our new flower garden!” I explained with a hearty voice and a trembling smile.
Jonathan and I consoled ourselves with every gardener’s favorite refrain: Next year. Next year, won’t this be the perfect spot for an Easter egg hunt? Next year, won’t the roses be beautiful?
Next year, won’t we say how glad we are to have done this?
The wild thing about next year is that it always does come. And so much more quickly than we ever dare to hope.When you tend gardens and young children, this is both a marvelous and a heartbreaking thing.
We hosted another Easter egg hunt for our neighbors this spring. This year, toddlers crunched across the garden’s gravel paths scooping up eggs. The window boxes in the potting shed spilled the old-fashioned violets called “Johnny Jump-Ups.” The green boxwoods edged beds that, while still mostly brown and mostly empty, at least looked like what they were: places where flowers would soon grow.
Next year gives and it takes away, but what it gives and what it takes are so often unexpected.
This year gave perfectly formed daffodils despite our strangely warm El Niño winter.
This year took the life of my sister Kelli’s husband Shawn in a military helicopter crash off the beautiful blue coast of Oahu.
In January, I flew with my daughter to Hawaii. When we boarded the plane, we still hoped that Shawn was not dead but lost.
We imagined what was never true: twelve marines, together, on a life raft. Twelve men heading home from the sea.
In April, we buried Shawn in Texas prairie soil.
In June, I snipped roses and gathered the first lilies with Shawn’s children, my two nieces and my two nephews.
Every day of her visit at Maplehurst, my youngest niece helped me fill a collection of buckets with weeds. We fed the weeds, one by one, to the chickens. “These eggs will be full of vitamins!” we took turns saying to one another.
Of course, a flower garden costs so much more than a carton of free-range eggs from the market. There is the money for bare roots and bulbs. There is the time spent pruning and weeding. There is the frustration of watching Japanese beetles devour rose buds from the inside out.
One moment it is Eden, and the next a sudden rainstorm has flattened half of the trumpet lilies.
When I count the costs, I begin to doubt.
But when I remember my sister taking photographs of the roses in delicate rainbow colors, when I think of my niece pulling green velvet weeds, I say, “How glad I am to have made this garden.”
With an Amish-made shed for shelter, two benches for rest, and a wild abundance of blooms, the flower garden has grown into a sanctuary.
It is a place where peace dwells, the kind of peace that persists regardless of grief or thunderstorms or insects.
We made it with our own hands, yet it feels like a gift I did nothing to deserve.
Whether I am picking weeds, or squashing beetles, or cutting a frilly pink dahlia the exact size of my youngest child’s head, I keep looking for someone to acknowledge.
Of course, a sanctuary is also a good place for prayer.
Perhaps that is why, as I work, I do not whistle. I only whisper, Thank you.
Christie Purifoy is a writer and gardener who lives with her husband and four children in an old red brick farmhouse called Maplehurst in southeastern Pennsylvania. She co-hosts the Out of the Ordinary podcast with her longtime friend Lisa-Jo Baker and writes a twice-weekly column for Patheos called “Cultivating Glory.” Christie is convinced that God is inviting each one of us to live as placemakers, whether we have green thumbs or not.
Weaving together her family’s journey with stories of botanical marvels and the histories of the flawed yet inspiring placemakers who shaped the land generations ago, Christie’s latest book Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace is a reminder that the cultivation of good and beautiful places is not a retreat from the real world but a holy pursuit of our God-given calling to create.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]