Garden Fights

Between loving fresh vegetables and an assumption about gardens being “doctrine,” I find myself planting every spring and harvesting what the bugs didn’t nibble in the summer and fall. Except for a few condo-living years when dirt was a scarce commodity, I have planted religiously. But last week, when my kids (yet again) turned a bit of weeding and picking into a brawl about who was working hardest and who was not helping at all, I wondered why. There is a farmer’s market just down the street, after all.

An admittedly quick search demonstrated that most statements were from the President Kimball era when I was young, so it makes sense that I remember planting a garden as doctrine. My search also turned up Patricia Reece Roper’s true story in the Friend. The mom in the story tells her young daughter, “Honey, the prophet said that we need to plant a garden. He told us at the last general conference. So Daddy borrowed that tiller, and we’re going to obey the prophet and plant a garden.”


“I don’t know why the prophet wants us to. I guess he wants everyone to be self-sufficient” (Friend, Aug 2001, 4).

Obedience? Self-sufficiency? Teaching kids to work? Word of wisdom/food issues? Does anyone know the official reason(s) why we plant? Are gardens even “doctrine” any longer? Or are gardens one of those guiltless good ideas that you should do—but won’t keep you out of heaven if you don’t?

27 comments for “Garden Fights

  1. I haven’t heard it touted as doctrine for a long time, and I suspect some of the reason was part of the emergency preparedness warnings in light of the ongoing Cold War. For myself there are two valuable things that are gained aside from the obvious self-sufficiency part of it (and the love of fresh tomatoes!): 1. A better respect for creation and nature, as I try my best to care for and nourish these plants. 2. The parable of the seed (bad soil, stony ground, weeds, etc.) are more vividly illustrated as I try to prepare the soil properly and eradicate the life-sucking weeds from my garden. Same thing goes for Alma’s faith parable. There is symbolism in nature that applies to our lives and this is one that speaks most strongly to me.

  2. Maybe I missed something while listening to all the SWK talks as a teenager but I wouldn’t have classified gardening as a doctrine ever… I think there are lots of good reasons to take it up. Maybe one of the unspoken reasons we were encouraged to garden is so we would recognize the difference between Johnson grass and corn sprouts when we accept our next stake farm weeding assignment! ;)

  3. Tucked in the woods above Spoleto, Italy, there is an old estate now a hotel, once the home of a Cardinal and frequented by Michelangelo. He reportedly told the Cardinal that “Only in the forest is there peace” and the saying is now on each ceramic ashtray. As much as I hate to admit it now that my husband has taken gardening to a backbreaking extreme, gardening, like other nature experience, can bring a peace to the soul. Is it contact with the earth, the productivity of the plants, the purging effect of a good sweat, an Adamic understanding, the beauty of many growing things, the often solitary and meditative nature of the work, the satisfaction of feeding the body healthy food, Matt G’s good ideas or all of the above and much more? Much more, but I still categorize gardening as good advice, not doctrine.

  4. I don’t know that it’s doctrine, per se, but gardening was one of the very first commandments given to Adam and Eve. Must have been pretty important to God.

  5. and following the “good advise” of a prophet, is often VERY good form. Now if only my spaghetti squash would get bigger than a marble…

  6. and following the “good advice” of a prophet, is often VERY good form. Now if only my spaghetti squash would get bigger than a marble…

  7. The realization that comes every summer that, no matter how much tilling, cultivating, weeding, watering, etc. one has done, God grants the increase.

    And the miracle that happens every year, sometime between the end of February and the middle of May when all those things that were dead come back to life.

    And, all the things that Molly says.

  8. I would classify this as good advice and not doctrine. I have ignored good advice before, but I have usually been sorry. We have a very pitiful garden, in pots. We hope to move to a better place and have a proper garden.

  9. Thanks J. Stapley. Very interesting. Only 1 1/4 acres. That ought to keep the family busy. And the bonus is that it would be big enough that they wouldn’t encounter each other, hence avoiding the fights.

  10. Like you, I grew up in that era, and have ever since planted my own little “garden of obedience.” (I even had buckets with swiss chard and spindly tomatoes on our landing when we lived in an apartment in the San Fernando Valley.

    In the sixteen years since owning our own suburban mini-plot home, we’ve put in a large Rhubarb plant (that alone is a blessing! I love rhubarb pie and rhubarb jam), and the original 7′ row of raspberries I planted along the backyard fence spread out to 35′ feet over the years. Early on we replaced the junipers in front of the porch with plums we keep trimmed into bushes — the plums are small and sour, but make great jam and sauce. Under the plum bushes you’ll find a sea of mint. But our garden is tiny, only 5’x 12′, growing peas, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, and herbs and cucumbers. The secret to avoiding fighting children is water-permeable weed barrier (and a series of drip lines connected to the lawn’s sprinkler system). The only work this garden needs is the spring tilling, planting, ongoing tying of vines to the upright lattice running down the center, and picking the produce (nobody fights over that). We toss a tarp over it in the fall, and generally can pick fresh tomatoes until Thanksgiving, especially if I throw a string of lit Christmas lights under the tarp with the plants).

    So, is it a commandment, or as you say, doctrine, to grow a garden? I don’t know. Some years, it was a pain. The one year I forgot, I missed it. What I do like is the sense of satisfaction I get from puttering around in my garden, from picking the raspberries and making jam, from serving fresh rhubarb pie. I like the peace and quiet of clearing out the old canes in the bramble, an excuse to sit and think. There really isn’t much garden work to go around, I kind of hoard it for myself. But I suspect that my kids will do the same when they grow up, because they will want to have the same kinds of familiar comforts for themselves that they saw their parents have.

    I guess then that I would not put the direction to have a garden in the commandment category, but rather in the “wisdom” category. I think there are some things that are just wise to do, but not precisely necessary.

  11. Commandment or advice? I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that the large garden square in the backyard was one of the reasons we bought our house. One of the previous owners of the house was the bishop, who also built the shelves that are just the right size for #10 cans.

  12. Fresh veggies (healthier and tastier), self-sufficiency, active use of faith (and humility), work ethic, using our innate power to “create” (thus drawing closer to God), etc. I don’t need no stinkin’ commandment; it just makes sense.

    Especially the part about home-grown beefsteak tomatoes and zucchini the size of my arm. Mmm… :)


  13. P.S. Coffinberry, your idea about draping tarps over the tomatoes with a string of Christmas lights for warmth is brilliant! Although I’m not sure we’d make it all the way to Thanksgiving in Minnesota. Maybe Halloween. I’m definitely giving that a try this year. Thanks!


    P.P.S. I’d also add “finding peace in nature (which also helps draw closer to God)” to my list.

  14. Jon, after a comment like that, the least you can do is post a zucchini recipe or two.


    “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith.”

    I take this to mean that if it doesn’t reside in the standard works, it isn’t doctrine. But I have no idea what “establish doctrine” means – that they define which parts are doctrine?

  16. A garden is the most expensive and laborious operation imaginable. We invest hundreds of labor hours and many resources in the garden every year. All for a return of a few fruits and vegetables. It isn’t worth it. There must be some other intent behind the counsel on gardening. Otherwise, it is bad advice. We would all do much better patronizing the grocery store.

    I hope, if ever the time comes that we depend on what we can grow ourselves, that we have a bit more wisdom about growing things than we do now. I know, for example, that some crops can be raised more efficiently in a collective culture, growing enough for everyone. The time may come that we will discover such principles anew. Until that day, perhaps growing a garden is simply another exercise in obedience to counsel.

  17. Yeah, but what yummy fruits and vegetables! I haven’t been able to bottle for the last two years and you know, those Del Monte green beans just don’t taste the same.

  18. “Counsel” is negotiable. If your family is worse off doing it, decide not to and take it to the Lord.

  19. “But last week, when my kids (yet again) turned a bit of weeding and picking into a brawl about who was working hardest and who was not helping at all…”

    I was such a kid. Now gardens are part of my connection to … um, lots of stuff.

  20. Kylie, my favorite use of zucchini also calls for fresh tomatoes (surprise!) and mozzarella.

    1. Slice a zucchini into roughly half-inch slices, dip in an egg wash, cover with bread crumbs, and fry up in a pan with butter until toasty brown.

    2. Remove the breaded, fried zucchini slices from the pan, and place on a cookie sheet (with aluminum foil, for easier clean up — remember to recycle!)

    3. Add a slice of tomato on top of the zucchini round and a slice of mozzarella on top of that. Bake in the oven at some temperature (300 F?) until the mozzarella becomes softly melted.

    4. Let them cool off just a bit (the internal juices can be hotter than they look), and eat as many as you can before someone else finds out what you’re up to. (Be sure to make a lot — they go fast.)

    How’s that for yummy?


  21. I don’t know whether it’s doctrine that we “have” a garden. But I’m quite sure the plan of happiness is that we live in a garden. If you don’t live in a garden, then learning to garden would seem to be a thing to do. I rather think gardening is a way of living, that includes learning to see, learning to do, learning to have patience, learning to rely on oneself with tremendous faith in the god of nature. . .

  22. Sounds good, Jon. It probably would have worked out better than the zucchini casserole I tried out tonight.

  23. Other benefits to gardening, in line with some comments above, include a closer feeling to nature in a way that slows down the overly-commodified/commodious, always-looking-for-the-easiest-way-to-get-thing (incl. food) lifestyle that we’ve grown so accustomed to in our modern, technological, capitalist society. Studies that mention more specifically some of the benefits of becoming more grounded via gardening include:

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