In the gardens of my friends, week 3

For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations.
— Isaiah 61:11

I’m more than a little bit addicted to the Olympics right now (you, too?). Perhaps this post will encourage you to take a few moments away from the games’ coverage to walk through a garden. Today marks week three in the series of tours through some of my California friend’s gardens.

My friend whose garden I feature today loves sharing goodies from her garden. When I was going through a rough patch this spring, we met for coffee, and she showed up with a bouquet of camellias from her garden. They cheered me for days.

She’s one of my writing group friends, and invariably, she brings herbs from her garden to share. The last time we gathered, she had mint by the bag full for us.


Tons of delicious mint

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In the gardens of my friends, week 2

They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion,
And they will be radiant over the bounty of the Lord—
Over the grain and the new wine and the oil,
And over the young of the flock and the herd;
And their life will be like a watered garden,
And they will never languish again.
—Jeremiah 31:12

I hope you enjoyed last week’s stop on my friends’ garden tour. This week brings us to the garden of a friend who leads a group of us fearless writers. She often opens her home so we can gather and spend a few hours in quiet, companionable writing. Depending on where I sit to write, I often find myself gazing out into her yard, enjoying the abundant beauty there.

She also happens to share my love of nurseries, and she introduced me to one of my favorite nurseries one weekend as we strolled and chatted, laughed to see hummingbirds buzzing about, and tarried over favorite flowers to dream about and plan our own gardens.


My friend’s favorite flower, the princess lily

As we walked through the rows and rows of flowers, we talked of flowers that grow well here and flowers that grow well in North Carolina. I’m always delighted to find reminders of home in friends’ gardens: Continue reading

In the gardens of my friends

And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
— Isaiah 58:11

Earlier this summer, friends from North Carolina began posting pictures of their gardens on Facebook. Their posts reminded me of times we chatted about gardening or wandered through public gardens together or visited our favorite nursery for plants and lunch. (The best nurseries have cafes to encourage you to linger.)

Their photos stirred up a longing to visit with my North Carolina friends but also inspired me to reach out to California friends who have green thumbs. I asked if I could wander through their gardens and take some pictures. Most apologized for their garden’s appearance because of the drought, but I think you’ll see that, even in a dry land, beautiful gardens abound. (Sprinklers and less restrictive watering rules have helped this summer.)

August can be a tough time for gardeners. In the south, too much heat and humidity. In California’s Central Valley, too much heat and no rain since May. Whether your own garden looks a bit scraggly these days or is bursting with beauty, I hope you’ll enjoy touring these friend’s gardens with me over the next few weeks.

First up, the garden of a friend who welcomed me to California with the gift of a poinsettia the day after I arrived here. (A plant is a perfect housewarming gift, especially for someone who has moved cross-country and likely had to leave all the houseplants behind.)


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Healing in the Hiding Place

There are some books you shouldn’t read in public unless you don’t mind crying out your eyeballs in front of strangers. Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place is one of those books.


Four weeks ago, I invited you to join me in reading The Hiding Place and planned to read it myself on a cross-country flight. Even the first two chapters forced me to stifle tears, and I only dared read part of it on the plane, stopping after I pressed against the window to sob quietly. I saved the rest of the book for home, reading it only in daytime, as if the only way my heart could absorb what I was reading was to have the sunlight as company for the dark pages.

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Stacking the river rocks

Yesterday was a beautiful morning, cool and quiet with the sun streaming down. I walked down to the river, part of my usual morning routine now, and began looking for cairns. For a few weeks now, I have noticed little stacks of stone popping up along various trails. A particular collection of cairns captured my interest the day before.

I brought my phone with me, not wanting the weight and bulk of my better camera, but when I got to the place where the cairns had been, a pile of scattered rocks greeted me. I decided to search for others. Even if I found none, the morning’s walk would be worthwhile simply because of the beauty of the day.

I didn’t have to walk far, though, before I came across something more sculpture than cairn.


I was delighted to find this sculpture on a side trail I seldom take.

I’m glad I took a picture of it yesterday. This morning, it was already a mere heap.

I’m curious about who builds the cairns and sculptures. And I’m equally curious about who knocks them down. Is it the same person? Are several people playing a game of hide and seek with one another, one person building up a cairn and another saying, “I found you” by tearing it back down? Or maybe the cycle of creation and destruction is more random?


Two small cairns are all that remain from a group of five or six I noticed last week.

The area around the river was mined for gold through the 1950s, and huge rock piles called tailings serve as a reminder of those days. There is a project underway to build up gravel beds in the river for spawning salmon and other fish, but I can’t see how all that extra rock could possibly fit into the river. The remaining rocks give cairn makers and sculpture artists endless ways to play and meditate and shape their surroundings.


Mining near the river has displaced ample rock to inspire cairn builders and rock sculptors.

While I was out running this morning, I took another trail I’d never noticed and found what appears to be the primary gravel excavation area for moving rock into the river. At the base of the deep pit sat cairns and the obligatory rocks in the shape of an arrow-struck heart with someone’s initials in it.

I smiled and kept on running, leaving the heart and the cairns to stay until someone else comes along to reshape them.

Why do we stack rocks? Why do we build cairns? Early stories in the Old Testament speak of altars, monuments and rock piles as way-finding markers. I especially love the story in Joshua of the men building a stone memorial on the banks of the Jordan to help generations of Israelites remember the crossing there:

Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. Let this be a sign among you so that when your children ask later, saying ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”

Thus the sons of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan … and they are there to this day.

– Joshua 4:5-8, 9

This story reminds me of sitting with a beloved former minister of my church, as we talked about my book and his upcoming sermon. I can hear his booming voice and see the twinkle in his eye as he talks about the children asking, “Grandaddy, Grandaddy, what do these stones mean to you?”

The stones and cairns I pass by each morning may not have much meaning to me,  because they have not had time to become part of my history. But they still manage to conjure up stories and memories from home.

Planting roots in the rocky soil
Speaking of rocks, I dug into the earth this past weekend, a first planting in our new garden: a Jerusalem Sage. I was delighted to find this drought-tolerant gem of a plant at a nearby nursery—a place where I could spend way too much time and money.

The soil was full of little rocks as I dug. I was glad I hadn’t bothered bringing any of the rocky soil amendment so important to the clay soil of my North Carolina home. It is unnecessary here.

I promise an update when the blooms open.