Christie Purifoy is a writer who loves to grow flowers and community. Seriously, her garden is BLISS. And her book Garden Maker is both poetic and practical. I genuinely LOVE this book! In its beautiful, photo-filled pages, you’ll find everything you need to get started growing your own flowers, and you’ll drink deeply of the wonder and wisdom our God offers us only in the garden. It is with deepest gratitude and joy that we welcome Christie to the farm’s table today…

Guest Post by Christie Purifoy

Flower gardens don’t begin with flowers. They don’t even begin with seeds. They begin with desire and vision, and they begin with ordinary dirt.

“Flower gardens don’t begin with flowers.”

Of course, most gardeners never use the word dirt. They speak of soil, and they speak of it with a connoisseur’s finely nuanced vocabulary. The poet-gardeners talk of loam, clay, sand, gravel, humus, and marl. The scientist-gardeners mention lime, phosphorus, nitrogen, and acidity, and they fiddle around with test tubes and color strips. I love the litany of earthy garden words, and I have never scooped soil into a test tube.

All are welcome in the garden, and there are no garden police to force test tubes on you if you do not want them.

Whether you lean toward poetry or science, your first task is the same: cast your eyes over your bit of earth and run it through your fingers. When you grab a handful after a summer rain does it ball up like a bit of potter’s clay? Is it already dry like sand in a child’s pail? Is it crumbly and black like something sweet from grandmother’s cake pan? Roses will appreciate the sticky clay that holds onto nutrients and water. Yarrow and cosmos will be happy in the quick-drying, nutrient-poor sand. Just about every flower will love chocolate-y loam.

If your eyes are already glazing over, if this already sounds like too much technical detail for you, take a deep breath and dig in.

Photo: Christie Purifoy, Maplehurst Gardens
Photo: Christie Purifoy, Maplehurst Gardens
Photo: Christie Purifoy, Maplehurst Gardens

Garden rules are only guides, and there is an exception to every rule. It is true that roses love heavy clay, but Rugosa roses love sandy soil near a salt-sprayed beach.

“If you care for the source—the soil—your garden will shrug off pests and grow.”

Take a look at the flowers growing so well in your neighbor’s garden, then give them a try in your own. You will get to know your soil over time. You might even create your own language to describe it.

There is also no need to learn the technical terms printed in minuscule type on bottles and bags. I recommend avoiding chemical fertilizers. It is best to feed your soil rather than your plants. Step away from the sprays with pictures of angry bugs. If you care for the source—the soil—your garden will shrug off pests and grow.

Feed your flower beds autumn leaves you’ve chopped up with the lawn mower. Feed your garden black compost from your backyard pile. Layer cardboard over the worst of the weeds and cover it with aged manure you’ve brought home from the garden center.

“the earth requires a steady diet of rot and decay if it is to continually erupt with new life.”

I live in mushroom-farming country and every winter I shovel out truckloads of the steamy, stinky soil that remains after the mushrooms are picked. If left to sit and cool off for a few months, mushroom compost is just the thing for hungry flowers.

Perhaps you have pine needles in abundance or a friend with a chicken coop or rabbit hutch. There is science behind every choice, but even the poets intuitively know that the earth requires a steady diet of rot and decay if it is to continually erupt with new life.

Photo: Christie Purifoy, Maplehurst Gardens
Photo: Christie Purifoy, Maplehurst Gardens

In “The Burial of the Dead,” the poet T. S. Eliot reminds us of this difficult truth:

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire.”

“Gardens grow because death can be fruitful and resurrection is real.”

Past and future meet and mingle in the ground of a garden. What died and was left to lie on your soil last year? What form of new flowering life do you hope will grow next spring?

Gardens grow because death can be fruitful and resurrection is real.

A garden maker may recite no formal creeds, but she lives them. Everything I practice in the garden says, I believe, and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

What is true in the garden, is true in the whole earth. What is true in the stem of a flower is true in our own arms and legs.

Do you want to live? The same voice that spoke green things into existence spoke in the accent of Nazareth, promising if we lose our lives we will find them. Christ is our perfect gardener, and he bids us come and die. It is a loving invitation.

How then to prepare? How do we make gardens and how do we tend our souls?

We do not run away from suffering and death but receive them. We water the ground with our tears. We spread dark death (mushy leaves, rotted manure, shredded branches from a local tree trimming company), and we reap new life. We layer on the old (brown cardboard, pine needles, grass clippings), and trust that deep down in the dark and the wet, earthworms are tunneling and webs of mysterious fungi are spreading and all of it—however dirty, stinking, and gross—is also beautiful, true, and good.

And so very much alive.

Christie Purifoy is the author of two memoirs, Roots and Sky and Placemaker, as well as the recently released Garden Maker: Grow a Life of Beauty & Wonder with Flowers. She earned a PhD in English literature form the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for an old Pennsylvania farmhouse called Maplehurst, where she loves to welcome guests to the Maplehurst Black Barn. Each Wednesday she co-hosts a new episode of the Out of the Ordinary podcast with her longtime friend Lisa-Jo Baker, and she also shares her gardening expertise with members of the online gardening community the Black Barn Garden Club.

Much more than a how-to flower gardening book (though you will learn how to), Garden Maker is for those who want to grow beautiful things that reflect the glory and majesty of the Creator and bring a little bit of heaven down to earth. In word and photo, Garden Maker welcomes readers to a place where ordinary soil grows a glorious song.