Death, Enemies, and Garden Cleanup

Death, Enemies, and Garden Cleanup October 19, 2019


How’s that for a title?

It’s October at Maplehurst. Most of the leaves are still on most of the trees, though they are now every shade from green to gold to fire.

Before they fall and our weekends are consumed by the leaves, I will make a start on the rest of the garden cleanup. First, however, here is a bit of autumn advice: do not rake those leaves! Instead, chop them up with a lawn mower. Chopped-up leaves can decay in place and feed your soil, or you can do what I do: gather the chopped leaves and spread as a mulch on garden beds. If you still have chopped leaves remaining, pile them in a safe place, perhaps circled with a bit of chicken wire. In the spring you will have the loveliest leaf mould to lighten up compost or smother any emerging weeds.


Dead leaves are good food for gardens.


Of course, I’m writing about (and from) the garden, but we are a part of this created world and our bodies and spirits are tied to its logic. I have yet to discover something true about a garden that is not also true about life outside my garden.

Death is our enemy. We know this, instinctively. We feel the wrongness of death deep in our bones, and we Christians take comfort in our belief that death was defeated through death. We believe that the resurrection of the One is a promise of resurrection for all:

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. – I Corinthians 15:26.

All this I believe. All this I claim to be true.

And yet.

In my garden, I enter a mystery: there can be no life without death.

Dead leaves feed the soil. Soil is death itself. And out of the soil springs new life. I cannot have spring without autumn.

Some leaves I will clean up. Later today I plan to chop my yellowing peonies back to the ground. Because peony leaves can harbor disease, I’ll carry those leaves to some far corner of the property. Most garden cleanup I’ll leave till spring. Birds and insects and even small mammals survive the winter with the help of seedheads and other dying bits and bobs. Even the soil is protected from winter’s freeze/thaw cycles by an insulating layer of dead garden.

But in the spring, I’ll clean with a vengeance. I’ll cut away the dead, I’ll cart off the decayed, I’ll spread a layer of compost like black death itself, and I will reap a harvest of abundant life.


Death may be the enemy, but even the enemy can be turned to good purpose by a Love and a Life that is stronger and wiser.

It is a mystery we cannot explain.

But this is the mystery in which we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).


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