Monday, July 18, 2011

Lessons From My Garden: Virginia Creeper

I am not a great gardener. In fact, I’m not even really a very good gardener. But I do enjoy working in my yard, and particularly in the flower beds that adorn my front yard. As I plant and weed and mulch and fertilize, I have a chance to think about things, and often about the lessons gardening can teach me.

Today’s lesson:

Vines are impossible to pull out from the root.

Our home is surrounded by beautiful tall trees, and in the tree stands is a mixture of English ivy, pachysandra and trillium (the last is a native wildflower in Michigan, and it’s protected by state law; I’m thrilled to have some growing in my woods). Unfortunately, we also have another vine, uninvited: Virginia creeper.

The Virginia creeper is an invasive species not native to our area, likely introduced (according to a ranger at a local park) by homeowners who were trying to provide quick groundcover (like those who planted my English ivy, which is also not native to our area). The Virginia creeper grows fast and stands taller than the ivy I want, and shades it so it does not thrive.

Unfortunately, the Virginia creeper is almost impossible to remove. Even if I am successful at getting a vine in my hands, quickly I discover it’s wrapped around the English ivy vines; pulling out one means pulling out the other. So at best I can pull up only part of the vine.

Most years I keep ahead of the vines pretty well. This year I was late to my weeding of the tree stand on the north side of our house, and I discovered (well, my lovely wife pointed it out to me) that the Virginia creeper had crossed the path and begun to climb the house, Jumanji-style. In fact, it had wrapped itself around a basement window, climbed under our siding at one place, and climbed the wall toward the roof in another. And I also discovered a couple of vines that had worked themselves under the corner molding of our siding and climbed the entire distance to our roof in the dark, seeking the light at the top. Left unattended, the vines could have done some real damage.

Here are some lessons the Virginia creeper teaches me:

1. Although it is a “benign” plant, it can be destructive if it’s growing where it shouldn’t. There may be “good” things that if they are done to excess or are in the wrong priority in my life, they can be harmful to me or to my family.

2. Because it grows taller than the English ivy that is meant to be there, the Virginia creeper can stunt the growth of the desired ivy. Like the tops of the trees that became too strong for their roots in the Allegory of the Olive Tree (see Jacob 5:37), the Virginia creeper can upset the balance in my tree stand. I need to preserve proper balance to nurture the things I want to grow in my life.

3. Pulling the creeper out by the roots is nearly impossible because of the length of the vines, and the fact that it is intertwined with the desired ivy. I cannot remove evil from the world. I can’t even remove it from my family’s view. I can do my best to keep it at bay; I can teach my children how to avoid it, I can try to keep it from my house. But I must be constantly aware of its potential influence.

4. Finally, there are some who might argue that I should let the Virginia creeper flourish. They may say that it is as reasonable to grow it as to grow the other non-native species I have in my tree stand. But I am the gardener here, and I get to decide what should be there and what shouldn’t. Similarly, my Father in Heaven is the gardener in my life, and he gets to choose what is right and what is not. It’s not up to me to decide what is evil, but to look to Him and His prophets, ancient and modern, to help me understand.


  1. I couldn't help but think of the wheat and tares as you described the intertwining of the ivy and the creeper.

    Cool how many different thoughts can be drawn from this one simple analogy.

  2. Yes, MMM, you're right! And there are more lessons my garden teaches me (some coming to a post near you...)