The Words of the Carlson Family

Gardening Tips

Paul Carlson
August 2001

This month's column has a different focus than usual. We're going to talk about nature, in a local and personal sense. I assure you, this column has not been taken over by Martha Stewart. (You can ask the editor if you don't believe me.)

For most of my life I've been a gardener. My back yard always had a vegetable patch, and when I pioneered in Idaho we had four large gardens. These days I'm a volunteer landscaper at the local Family Church, which has a couple acres of property.

So, is this a serious, heavy issue? Does the fate of the nation, the Providence, and of humanity itself, rest on it? Not exactly. But it is important.


Our members are making tremendous efforts to witness to people. Guests are welcome at our Family Churches, at Principle workshops, and in the homes of our members. We go to great lengths to 'prepare the atmosphere' for these guests, cleaning and decorating.

This preparation is important. Whether or not they actually say anything, people form opinions about us in many ways. A clean and neat building will give them a good impression.

But what about outside the building? In past years, our members lived in utilitarian 'church centers,' which did little more than provide a roof overhead during the all-too-brief hours between fundraising and other activities.

Today, many of our members rent apartments. In most such cases, someone else gets to worry about the yard, if any.

We've purchased numerous church buildings, and some members have bought houses of their own. With these come property, and the need for landscaping. At this point, 'caring for nature' goes from a vague theory to a serious responsibility. It also becomes part and parcel of the impression guests will have about our movement and, indirectly, its Founder.


Here in California, fresh water and electricity are getting scarce. With scarcity, prices have risen. Wages have also increased, so the option of paying a commercial gardener has become quite expensive.

What's left? The very bedrock of American proficiency: Do It Yourself. Sure, it takes time, and a certain measure of skill, but think of the rewards.

You are able to fulfill the Principle's Third Blessing in a substantial way. You get some good exercise, which (admit it) you could probably use. You can even turn it into a family activity, and pry your kids away from those video games for a while.

In my local congregation, people can fulfill a measure of one's expected 'volunteer hours.' Your home and church will become a beautiful dwelling for God.

There's no time, you say? I truly doubt that. In the time it takes to watch one Hollywood movie, you can plant a whole bed of actual flowers. These will offer beauty to you, and everyone else around, for a long time to come. Instead of jogging, grab that shovel!


When you grab that shovel, make sure to put on some work shoes and sturdy leather gloves. Also, slather on the sunscreen. No need for blisters or sunburn! After a few weeks you'll be much tougher, and will no longer have to worry much about either.

But you don't have a green thumb? Hang out with someone who does, and learn as you go. Talk to your local nurserymen. They love to dispense advice, especially if you catch them when their place isn't too busy.

Don't even try for a picture-perfect landscape, such as you'll see in a fancy magazine. Use their articles for ideas, sure, but don't worry about equaling those supermodels of gardening.

How to begin? Make a plan, with a list of plants and gardening tools, and a basic site map. Do you want to plant seeds, or spend a little more on seedlings? Or still more on already-grown plants?

Some plants are sturdier than others. In some out-of-the-way corners, I have literally planted cactuses. Do you want annuals or perennials? Tall or short? A large grouping (of the same plant), or a colorful variety?

Will your plants be in the ground, or will you have pots, or window boxes? Indoors or out? Is the area shaded or in full sun? Narrow or wide?

If you rent, or do not plan to stay long, you'll want to water your plants with a hose, or a watering can.

But if you (or your congregation) own the land, you can install an irrigation system. This will save a lot of effort later on, and with a timer, it ensures that the watering will never be forgotten. Here in drought-prone California, if you put in a water conserving landscape, our local water agency will pay for half the equipment.

Again, you can hire a landscaper, or do it yourself. It's not that difficult. If you played with Tinker Toys, or model kits, when you were a kid, you'll be able to handle PVC irrigation piping.


Everyone can participate in gardening. Even small children can help, fetching seeds or holding the water hose. They love it! I've received practical assistance from our Second Generation teenagers. They've even done things like swing a pickax, in order to lay a new water pipe under a paved area.

The church dads can show off their power tools, and probably some unsuspected skills. Before you know it, the whole project will be completed. Make it a picnic!

Because I'm gardening in an area frequented by children, I decided not to use chemical sprays. This turned out to be a good decision. In my experience, expensive bug sprays killed harmful aphids for a week-and then they swarmed right back. Roundup only killed weeds for about a week, too.

When I released live ladybugs, they devoured every aphid in sight, and continued doing so for more than two months. Dense ground-cover plants will literally crowd out most weeds. (You'll all have to cooperate on this, because you cannot use both.)


You probably have, or know, a kid who hates to be pried away from those video games. In that case, don't just fight it-slip in a little video gardening!

There is a video game from Natsume called "Harvest Moon, Back to Nature." It's a 'roll playing' game available for Playstation, Nintendo, and a couple of other systems.

In it, you get to run a small farm in a forested village. The player becomes responsible for his farm's plants and animals, caring for them each day. He also interacts with the villagers, remembering birthdays, entering festivals, etc.

The seasons pass while the player makes friends, spends a fruitful day, and accumulates supplies. I've even seen kids using paper and a calculator to map out farm expansion plans.

It's nonviolent, and I found it quite realistic. It comes highly recommended by my Junior Panel of Advisors. (One version also allows the main character to be a girl.)


Just a smidgen of heaviness: most of the horrible people you see in the news started out small. Those school shooters were picked on, and got angry, and went on prescription drugs to bury that anger-for a while. Guys who hurt people usually hurt animals first.

A child who loves gardening can be a healthy child, physically and emotionally. Plants are dependent on our care, and will respond beautifully to our attention.

An adult who gardens can find it deeply fulfilling. On a larger scale, it provides many rewards.

Do you like to eat? You'll feel a lot closer to the farmers who make that possible. Also, home-grown vegetables are cheaper, better tasting, and more nutritious.

Would you rather live in a broken-down slum, or a nicely landscaped neighborhood? Somebody does all that landscaping! Is it a noisy, hurried "mow, blow, and go" commercial landscaper, or has someone really put their heart into it? Maybe that person should be you.

Many people crow about their love for nature. Some even make policies that cut off water from firefighters and farmers, and give it to some obscure fish. But only a few of those people could really tell a cactus from a crocus, or manage to grow either. You'll know how, and your love will be real.

Remember, we are each responsible for the Creation. Paintings of the Garden of Eden, and of the Paradise yet to come, always depict a lush, green landscape. Next time to see one, look carefully for the happy gardener.

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