My dad was a Master Gardener. In the summers when he wasn’t teaching sociology or psychology at the local university, he would turn our Utah yards into the showplaces of the neighborhood, with gorgeous, dripping Wisteria, Mimosa and Golden Chain trees, and countless brilliant blossoms few Utahns knew could grow there. He’d graft the limbs of one stone fruit bearer onto another, and surprise friends by picking peaches, plums and apricots from the same tree. I’d watch as he carefully blended vermiculite, peat moss, and manure in a wheelbarrow. The smell was unforgettable, but so were the results: Roses and peonies the size of dinner plates.
One autumn I saw him puttering in the front yard, and figured he was just aerating the lawn. But when the winter snow melted, I saw what he had been doing. Our sloping lawn now read, “It’s Spring” in a gorgeous burst of purple and yellow crocuses.
I used to work alongside him—I no longer remember if it was required or voluntary—but I do know I was the only garden “go-fer” welcome there. I was given age-appropriate tasks (often weeding) and learned the importance of soil, and how to balance it for plants whose Latin names he knew, but which I never quite grasped. Like the Karate Kid learning martial arts skills by doing menial work, I learned some life lessons inadvertently, by digging holes and soaking roots.
The first lesson of gardening, it turned out, was patience. I had no interest in bulbs—wait months for them to bloom? I wanted flowers now. And placing plants a foot apart seemed crazy to me; how long would it take for them to fill in and cover the dirt? A year? I wanted to crowd them together, shoulder to shoulder, like sardines. Skinny saplings were the worst; I wondered if I’d live long enough to see them become shade trees. But my dad had endless patience.
The second lesson was optimism. You had to believe in the future. You had to have faith that all your sweat and blisters would produce a healthy row of corn or beans, and make your toil worth it. And though I think I was born with an optimistic nature, I spent a good deal of time worrying about pests and weather.
The third lesson was stewardship. If you own any land at all, even a bucket of dirt you bought at the hardware store, Dad felt you have an obligation to make something grow there. It was a way of showing gratitude to Heavenly Father, and, frankly, a way to copy Him a little bit. We sort of owed it to the earth to make the ground yield and flourish.
The fourth lesson was to have a plan. The minute a patch of dirt is available, a war begins. Plants will compete for dominance, weeds often winning. When man interferes with this war, you get gardens. Thus, you cannot just allow random thorns and briars to take over, but instead you must landscape deliberately, with a clear design in mind.
These and many more gardening rules stuck with me as I grew up, and while I never became the expert my dad was, his words still echoed long after he died in my twenties, as I tried to make my yards a thing of beauty, or at least of intention.
What I didn’t realize at the time was how much he was teaching me about the two-pronged effort of redeeming our dead: Temple work and Genealogy.
Nowhere is patience more needed than in searching for our ancestors. We need a world-view the size of all eternity, and determination that lasts decades. Is it worth it? Are bulbs and annuals probably the most gorgeous and brilliant of all flowers? It is not only worth it, but childishly impatient not to invest our hearts and souls in something that takes great time.
Do we need optimism for this task? Every individual who participates in a temple baptism, endowment, or sealing ceremony holds the hope in his or her heart, that the person they represent will accept this work. Hours and hours of loving effort go into the path of every single name, and our belief that they’ll appreciate it and grasp the greatness of it, spurs us on through every step of the journey.
Is it our stewardship to gather all these names and do all this work? It’s a promise we’ve been told we made in the pre-existence. It’s essential to our own salvation and an obligation we have to do God’s work and show Him our love and gratitude. Yes, it is an earthly stewardship, a duty we have to save others once we have seen to our own ordinances.
Do we need a plan? Latter-day Saints live with intention and design. We do not leave salvation to the winds of chance, nor family connections to the buffetings of Satan. We mean to interfere mightily in that war, and ensure a garden of souls nourished and well-tended, blooming brighter than the greatest meadow of blossoms on the earth.
I never could garden without thinking of my father, but now I can no longer garden—or even appreciate nature—without thinking of the temple, as well. Can it be we are surrounded by reminders that temple work and genealogy are vital to this life and the next? Is it a coincidence that the same traits we need to cultivate the ground are the same traits we need to save our ancestors? Or do you think that might be by design?