Is There a Heaven? Yes, and It’s in a Back Yard Up North

Is There a Heaven? Yes, and It’s in a Back Yard Up North April 19, 2016

rudbeckia, echinacea and liatris grow along garden walk between a shingled house and a woods near minneapolis. Photo by Barbara Newhall
Yellow rudbeckia, pink echinacea and spiked liatris grow along a garden walk. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall 

Lots of folks are claiming to have been to heaven and back these days. Usually there’s a flash of light involved, and a host of angels maybe.

My idea of heaven, if there turns out to be such a thing, is a place inhabited, not by flashing lights and winged specters, but by rudebeckia and honeysuckle, liatris and phlox. Real down to earth stuff, nourished by a little dirt, a little sun, a sprinkling of rain and an army of red wiggler worms.

I have a particular garden in mind, one I’ve been lucky enough to visit in summer and in winter. It’s the fruit of the labor of a Midwestern gardening couple who have put in hours and hours of earthly, back-breaking work — planting, mulching, weeding, composting and chasing down pests. But their garden doesn’t look labor intensive. It

Coral colored honeysuckle blosomss agaainst a backkgroiund of green foliage in a Minnesota garden in August. Photo by Barbara Newhall
Honeysuckle. Photo by Barbara Newhall

looks like it just happened. Like there’s no choice but for it to be there on that slope between the house and the woods. Like God spoke it into being on the third day.

And why not? Why wouldn’t rudbeckia and echinacea be blasting color every which way on this spot? Why wouldn’t hydrangeas be nodding their flawless white pom-pons just so over the stone pathway?

And how about that lone cluster of honeysuckle blossoms and those crinkling hosta

Pink and magenta Phlox blooming in a Minnesota garden. Photo by Barbara Newhall
The five-petaled phlox blossom.
A five-petaled Platycodon (pink balloon flower) growing in a Minnesota garden in August. Photo by Barbara Newhall
Platycodon, aka pink balloon flower.
Spikey stalks of purple Liatris blossoms grow in a Minnesota garden in August. Photo by Barbara Newhall
Spikey stalks of liatris, waist high.
Large pom-pons of white hydrangea against dark green foliage. Photo by Barbara Newhall
Fat white pom-pons of hydrangea blossoms.
Lush Sedum tucked away in a quiet spot. Photo by Barbara Newhall
Lush sedum tucked away in a quiet  spot.
White yarrow blossoms up close. Photo by Barbara Newhall
Yarrow blossoms with near-microscopic centers.
The underside of a speckled orange Lilium blossom. Photo by Barbara Newhall
The underside of a  lilium blossom.
A coral colored day lily growing in a Minnesota garden in August. Photo by Barbara Falconer Newhall
Day lily — pink, yellow, coral.
Yellow Rudbeckia blossom with a dark brown center, also known as black-eyed susan. Photo by Barbara Newhall
Rudbeckia. All photos by Barbara Newhall


















leaves? Or the phlox blossoms, spiraling out five perfect, pink and magenta petals every time? Aren’t they inevitable?

The days are long up north in summertime. So when my husband and I arrived at my friends the gardeners’ house just before dinnertime one afternoon, there was plenty of soft northern sunshine still lighting up the place.

It was heaven for me and my point-and-shoot. Light was coming at the garden from

A weathered Adirondack chair sits in the midst of a profusely flowering garden with Liatris and day lilies. Photo by Barbara Newhall w
Nice Adirondack chair, but since this isn’t heaven yet, the gardeners probably don’t sit much. Those round flowers on the left are blue globe thistle. Photo by Barbara Newhall

every direction. And the evening was still, no breeze, which meant our friends’ flowers could hold a pose long enough for my point-and-shoot to take its time getting them into focus.

It was a guilty pleasure for me. I’d been invited to a social event. Everyone else was indoors enjoying the hors d’oeuvres and the human companionship. And I was out here in the garden. Just me and my trusty point-and-shoot, tasting heaven.

© 2016 Barbara Falconer Newhall. All rights reserved.

More garden stories at “In the Garden With the Grammar Geek: Is It Ever OK to Use the Passive Voice?” and “My Garden Grows Like Crazy — But Is It Really Mine?”

This post appeared originally on, where Barbara reports on her life as an empty nest mom — and her rocky spiritual journey. Her book, “Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith” is available from Patheos Press.

Hosta growing in a Minnesota garden in August. Photo by Barbara Newhall
Hosta, no blossoms, just amazing leaves. Photo by Barbara Newhall
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