Skip to content

Companions in the Garden

April 21, 2013


This has been an especially beautiful spring. Flowering trees, shrubs, bulbs, and vines that usually bloom in succession this year are blooming simultaneously in our yard. Dogwood, redbud, and sassafras trees are displaying their white, purple, and chartreuse blossoms in concert. Azaleas, Lady Banks roses, and irises are doing the same. It is as if they all collaborated to make this an unforgettable spring.

Our garden has attracted attention from a number of visitors this season. When two of Clare’s out-of-town friends strolled through last week, one asked, “Who does the gardening?”

Clare explained, “Kirk does the planting, the weeding, and the landscaping. I give him suggestions.”

The truth is that Clare and I garden together – she above from the kitchen window and I down on my knees in the dirt. From her vantage point she spots details that I miss. In gardening, as in most matters, we are companions.

Companion planting is a way of combining plants in the garden.  When two plants are grown together, it may be of benefit to both.  Some varieties of herbs and flowers contain natural substances that can repel or attract certain insects.  Marigolds, when planted near cabbage, are said to discourage nematodes.  Bee balm attracts pollinators and so is a suitable companion to eggplant.  Other plants seem to promote growth among their neighbors.  Basil, for example, is said to promote healthy growth and to improve the flavor of tomatoes. They are companions in more ways than one. Fresh basil and homegrown tomatoes, layered with mozzarella cheese and drizzled with vinaigrette, make a tasty summer salad.  

           In our garden, I place some plants together simply to enhance their beauty.  Zepherine Drouhin, an antique climbing rose, has been cherished for generations for its rich perfumed scent and its large deep pink blossoms.  This beauty is one of the few roses that can tolerate poor soil and air pollution.  Even in partial shade, it blooms beautifully.

            Henryi, one of the most reliable varieties of all clematis, thrives well in the Piedmont. If its roots are protected, it tolerates our Southern heat. Henryi features large pure white blossoms.  As a vigorous climber, it is a favorite mailbox decorative vine.

            In our garden we have a Zepherine Drouhin rose and a Henryi clematis planted next to each other.  They climb to a height of nearly twelve feet, intertwining with each other and thriving together.  Most of the time they alternate in their flowering, but on occasion they bloom together.  The striking display of pink and white, accented by green and darker green leaves, is a sight to behold.  It took more than three years for the two plants to become established, but it was well worth the wait.

            Because both the Zepherine Drouhin rose and the Henryi clematis are climbers, they must have support.  The rose and the clematis offer to each other some support.  But when one clinging vine clutches to another clinging vine, the result can be disastrous.  The vines fall to the ground and become trampled underfoot.  If they bloom at all, they offer a poor show.  Sooner or later, one or both will die.

            A garden gate is a sign of hospitality welcoming quest to sacred space. The gate in the white picket fence that opens into our garden doubles as a sturdy trellis that provides the support needed for both the Zepherine Drouhin Rose and the Henryi Clematis.  The gate was built from treated lumber and red cedar lattice with the help of Wid Jenkins, a good friend now gone to glory.  The entire structure is painted with a durable oil-based white paint that penetrates and protects the wood.  

            The gate into our flower garden is a picture of my marriage with Clare.  From the very beginning, God saw the beauty of marriage.  When one man and one woman are rooted and grounded together in faith, when they are nurtured together through the seasons of life, when they grow together holding fast to each other, the potential for rare beauty is present.  They must, however, rely on a support stronger than either of them individually, stronger than the two of them together.  That support is God, the Creator of life, the One who designed marriage.

            In the Greek language, the word eros describes the love that we most often associate with romance.  It is the passionate, spine-tingling love that first brings a man and woman together in courtship.  Eros, left to itself, cannot endure.  The Greeks’ other word for love, agape, is best described in the love chapter in the Bible:  Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:7-8).  

            Agape is the love that gives strength and stability to marriage.  It is not a feeling but a decision, not an emotion but an act of the will.  It is like a trellis to flowering vines.  It is committed love that becomes the sturdy support for marriage. Agape love allows husbands and wives to become lifelong companions, to grow strong together and to bloom most beautifully.

            After weeding a flowerbed for the better part of a Saturday, I rose from my knees to stretch my aching back. Covered with dirt, pouring sweat, wearing tattered garden attire including a slouched hat, I was a sight!

At that moment, a car pulled into our driveway. Through an open window, the woman driver said, “I admire this yard every time I pass. Do you regularly do this kind of work?”

“Yes, especially this time of year,” I answered to the woman I did not know.

“How much do you get paid?” she inquired.

I knocked loose dirt from my trowel and my garden gloves, thinking.

“Well,” I said, “The lady who lives here lets me sleep with her.”

The car sped away.

Later that afternoon, after I had showered and dressed in clean clothes, Clare and I drank coffee on the back porch. As the sun set, she commented on the beautiful yard.

I shared the story about the woman who tried to hire me.

Clare just smiled and sipped her coffee.

She is my companion in all things, including the garden.


Kirk H. Neely
© April 2013

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: