Preparing for Winter: What Fall Gardening Can Teach the Heart 

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Today’s guest post is by Meridee Watts

I love October. Here in Idaho the temperatures are dropping, the first leaves of the season are starting to go from green to red and yellow, and it won’t be long before flocks of geese, like arrows in the sky, start heading south. While everyone else is rejoicing in all things pumpkin spice and fall, gardeners are already looking to winter and the fall gardening preparations they must make now for the season to come. 

Winter is not many people’s favorite season. After all, winter is cold, dark, depressive. If it were up to the majority of the population this season would be very short (or non-existent if you are like my Florida dwelling mother). But whether we like it or not, the winter season is vital for the health of our gardens and, more importantly, our hearts.  

Fall Gardening: Preparing for Winter 

The winter garden looks void of life, dull, empty, quiet. There are dry skeletons of once beautiful blooms, wrinkled berries clinging to twiggy sticks, the branches of deciduous trees and bushes have been stripped bare of their leaves, and even the evergreen conifers seem to have darkened and dulled in the harshness of winter. To the untrained eye it may seem as if this beautiful garden was simply abandon by its caretaker as soon as the weather turned. Don’t be fooled. A lot of work and consideration goes into preparing a garden for winter.  

Cutting Back 

In winter, there are many plants that need to be cut back. These plants will focus on their root growth over the winter and be stronger for it in the spring. Roses, fruit trees, and many other flowering shrubs love this harsh pruning. It can sometimes feel scary to take a beautiful Buddleja from 5 to 6 foot spikes to 1 foot nubs sticking out of the ground but this is what is best if I want beautiful, fragrant blooms all next summer.  

Going into this winter, take a good look at your life as it is. Are there commitments you have made that you need to take a break from? Maybe you are approaching burnout or have realized that in the rush of the responsibilities you continue to pile up, you have forgotten to take time for family dinner, a regular date night, a hobby that brings you joy, your health.

Maybe it’s time to step back from the volunteer work you committed to in a different season of life, maybe it’s time to reevaluate what your goals are in your job, or what season you are in with your kids (are you a parent of young kids just trying to keep up with laundry or do you have older kids and it’s now time to be giving them more responsibility?). This time of cutting back can be scary but remember, it is healthy! Though some of these may not survive the winter most will show back up in your life healthier and more vibrant when you enter a different season.  

Insulating and Encouraging Root Growth 

Some plants need to be protected in the winter months. There are multiple ways to do this but I do it by gathering the leaves that have fallen and mounding them over the plant so they are insulated from the below freezing temperatures they will endure during the winter here in Idaho. I also cover (or mulch) the ground of my flower and vegetable beds with 4 or more inches of leaves both for insulation and to feed the worms in the spring.  

Though this is something we should be doing all the time, insulating ourselves spiritually is especially important for the winter heart. These times of reflection on what God is doing in your heart should be something we do intentionally with the seasons. Taking a cue from nature and focus on protecting your inner growth. In the winter, plants focus on their roots instead of focusing on new growth and producing fruit as they would in spring and summer. Likewise, it is a good idea to get back to the basics of our faith and take a good look at how we are doing spiritually and practically. What are the roots that ground you that you need to be reflecting on? 

Tracing Fruit to Root

Often, the best way to find the root is to look at the health of the fruit (or lack of fruit) in your life. When you read through Galations 5:22-23 what does Holy Spirit poke at and tell you, “We need to work on this one.” Don’t allow yourself to fall into shame at the weaknesses that Holy Spirit points out. We are all broken and Holy Spirit is sent to us to be our helper, bringing conviction, not condemnation (John 14:26).

Usually when we struggle to produce fruit in an area it is because we have a brokenness in our root system that supports that fruit. So, when Holy Spirit points to a weakness hear this, “You are broken and hurting here, my Love. Give this to me. Let me heal you.”

Here are some prayers that might get you started: 

“Lord, what brokenness in me is keeping me from loving my spouse/my children/my neighbor as you would have me love them?”  

“Lord, how do I live life with your joy and peace when life is so hard right now?”  

“Jesus, how do I treat people with kindness when they are rude and disrespectful to me? And how do I do this without becoming a doormat?” 

“Lord, I struggle with controlling my impulses. I know that giving into to my impulses hurts me and others but I do it anyways. Teach me self-control, Lord.” 

Remember that the journey is important. Take time this winter to press into your Bible study as you pray. Use all the resources that you have available: Bible, Google, pastor, accountability partner, inner healing practitioner, counselor, local library, or maybe a library at your church. You can do this! With the help of Holy Spirit you can find wellness.  

Leaving Room for Life 

It is important in the winter garden to leave room for life. Leave the rose hips and the berries for the birds. Leave the open seed pods and spent flowers for the bugs. Just because the winter garden looks empty doesn’t mean that it is. There is life. And if you go and sit quietly in a winter garden on a sunny day you will see how full of life it really is!  

Too often in our busy modern world we ignore the reminder of the winter months to leave space for ourselves. One of my favorite Bible stories on this subject is the story of Ruth and its gentle reminder to not glean to the edge of our fields. Historically, the Jewish law of not harvesting to the edge of your field was so the poorest in your community could come and harvest the leftovers to help sustain their families through the winter months (Leviticus 23:22). It is because of this law that Ruth was able to glean from Boaz’ field and provide for her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:23).

However, this story also has a personal application. In life, you need to leave room for yourself. There are important parts of you that will starve if you fill your life so full of responsibilities that there is no room for those weakest parts. This pattern of not leaving room, over time, will cause burnout. This looks like exhaustion, lowered or no compassion, no joy when engaging in activities that usually bring you joy, and easily being angered or frustrated. A person in burnout may look at how they handled a person or a situation and not recognize themselves.  

It is not selfish to find room for yourself. It is much harder to recover from burnout than it is to adjust your life to include restorative time for yourself.  

Holding Hope for Spring 

The best way for a gardener to prepare for spring is by planting bulbs. Planting tulips, hyacinths, and crocuses as the growing season is coming to a close is such a hopeful act. When gardeners plant bulbs as part of their fall gardening, they are preparing for spring, months in the future; they are having faith in things not seen.  

Never prepare for the long winter while forgetting that spring will come again. After all, this is the whole reason that gardeners spend so much time working in their gardens during the autumn months. As you prepare your heart and life to push in to the rest and reflection of winter go ahead and plan for spring. I have always loved that Easter comes at the beginning of spring, so for me autumn is a season that I begin planning for Easter. I pick a Bible study for Lent and plan a meal with friends and family to celebrate the end of winter and the new life that we received when our savior died on the cross to cover our sins. Sowing plans for spring by the end of autumn (the first day of winter is usually right before Christmas) gives us purpose for our reflection and keeps us from becoming naval-gazers, perpetually stuck in the winter season.  

Meridee Watts lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband and son. She has her bachelors in crisis counseling and her certificate in Horticultural Therapy through which she brings her love of gardening together with her passion for healing people’s hearts. She is also an instructor with The Inner Healing School teaching the foundations, skills and ethics needed to be a competent and compassionate inner healing minister.



10 Responses to “Preparing for Winter: What Fall Gardening Can Teach the Heart 

  • I love everything about Fall, the crisp air and yes even the pumpkin spice! But thing I love most is that it’s a time to prepare. In my house it’s time to get everything buttoned up and ship shape for the holidays- sounds like the same is true for the gardens!

  • These are some great ideas to help with a gloomy mind in the winter, it’s sometimes much harder to stay positive in the cold winter months. Sometimes it can be hard to prepare for a better future when the dark is closing in on you

  • I really enjoyed the parallel between gardening and our own lives. It’s something I had never thought about before. I loved the phrase, “Never prepare for the long winter while forgetting that spring will come again.”

  • Yes!!! I think is amazing how many daily lessons you can learn from gardening. The changing seasons are such a beautiful time to reflect and make room to root! It wasn’t until I started taking gardening seriously that I learned the importance of planning ahead like growing spring bulbs and letting plants “die” to just watch them bounce back stronger than ever. 🙂

  • Ohhh my how many lessons we can learn from gardening, and the Master gardener. Especially those lessons on self care, and how important it is. Leaving Room was a big one for me. Best line… ” Never prepare for the winter while forgetting that spring will come again” such true words!

  • It’s so funny how gardening and taking care of ones self are such parallels! If you do not put in consistent work neither can be their most beautiful! Such a great reminder to make self care a priority!

  • Heather Scott
    2 months ago

    Love how you took gardening and made it applicable to the rest of our everyday lives!

  • These are wonderful self care tips. I too struggle with the busyness of our lives. We lived as missionaries overseas for years and really struggle with the pace of life here. Love the question “Lord, what brokenness in me is keeping me from loving my spouse/my children/my neighbor as you would have me love them?” Thanks!

  • I love the analogies you make between gardening and self-care, especially with emotional health during the winter. I think it’s so unique and innovative that you have combined horticultural therapy with crisis counseling! Keep up the wonderful work

  • The lessons we can learn about self care from gardening are eye opening. I enjoyed the Bible story you shared about Ruth being able to provide for her mother in law by using the “leftovers” from Boaz’s field, I had never heard that story before and your words after really spoke to me. I have found myself lately, after interaction with family and friends, thinking to myself “why did I react that way”, I’ve been out of character with the people who are closest to me because I am so stretched and exhausted right now. Time for a change. Thanks for sharing!

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