First published in Mormon Women's Forum, vol. 6, no. 3 (1995)

There are all kinds of gardeners. Some don't like bugs. To them, anything that crawls or flies is viewed as dangerous and undesirable, so these gardeners tend to apply broad-spectrum, highly toxic pesticides to rid the garden of what they view as pests. The fact that good bugs get killed off along with bad increases the gardener's reliance on chemicals from season to season.

Some gardeners are aware that good bugs along with bad bugs will get killed by the broad-spectrum pesticides, but opt to use them anyway because it's easier, not so labor-intensive, and seems to answer the immediate needs of the garden.

Some gardeners plant the same things over and over again, in the same spot, year after year. They know or care little about hybridization and the value of rotation. They don't know what kinds of seeds and varieties are available. They tend to over-fertilize, pointing with pride to the flourishing, immense greenery—but refuse to see that the yield in actual fruit belies the appearance of growth. Ultimately they exhaust the soil, have lower yields, contaminate the water supply and increase the odds that blight or disease will wipe out the one or two crops they persist in planting.

There have likewise been unintentional and harmful consequences to using non-organic methods when tending Christ's garden. Employing harsh chemical treatments and injurious mechanized processes in the quest to force growth increases the risk of poisoning ourselves with the residues. Far too many people are refusing to eat of the tree of life because they fear it has been contaminated with the pesticide of institutional coercion and pride. Worse, far too many people have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life, only to find the worm of unrighteous dominion nibbling away at the core.

Good, unharmful, natural gardening isn't easy. Many problems can be overcome when gardeners talk to other gardeners—even gardeners younger than they, whose plots may be smaller. Good master gardeners listen to others with more expertise than they in dealing with particular problems, pests or fertilizers. Good master gardeners listen to the questions and problems of less-experienced gardeners before attempting to give answers or advice.

Good gardeners study and develop new seeds and hybrids. They don't scorn advice but seek it. They recognize the value of innovative approaches, of crop diversity, of using good insects to counteract bad insects, of careful planting and cultivation of natural pest- and weed-controlling plants. They value methods based on real-life, contemporary experience, rather than slavishly following past routines solely because "that's the way we've always done it in this garden." They are willing to discard traditional methods which have demonstrably proven harmful. They don't simply assume that the Head Gardener approves of such methods simply because those methods have been around for awhile, or because they are described in back issues of "Good Gardening Tips" from long ago. Some of those past "tips" have been toxic in the extreme.

Good master gardeners do not condemn new ideas and methods out of hand, but wait to see the quality of the fruit and the yield. They do not restrict other gardeners' use of tools and natural fertilizers and new seeds nor access to the garden itself—saying to some, "you're a woman, you should be happy to plant tomatoes; and by the way, don't touch the hoe," or "you're a man, you need to concentrate on corn, and leave the tomatoes alone." Good master gardeners garden for the joy of it and allow other individuals the same opportunity for finding joy in their own fields of labor.

Good master gardeners take seriously Christ's maxim, "by their fruits ye shall know them," rather than allowing capriciousness, prejudice and cultural bias to dictate what or who gets pruned or plucked up—and when. Just as God restrains the angels from plucking up the tares until this can be done without harming the wheat, good gardeners understand how easy it is to mistake wheat for tares, and how important it is to show equal forbearance. Good gardeners understand from the parable in Jacob 5 that even wild branches are necessary to the life and productivity of a tame olive tree.

Like any garden, Christ's garden can truly thrive only when diversity is understood and respected. Using organic methods may take some getting used to. Initially the yield may be a bit lower without use of fertilizers and pesticides. (Careful weeding and mulching make herbicides unnecessary.) Sometimes organic produce must be washed a little more carefully to get rid of "little visitors," and sometimes it doesn't look quite so good as the slickly-waxed, commercially-grown stuff. But there's no comparing taste, healthfulness or overall quality of the fruit.

Those who blitz Christ's garden with the poison of intolerance for fear of letting a few bugs in or a few weeds grow will certainly have some explaining to do to the Head Gardener. Only tending His garden with care and kindness will elicit the "well done" we each hope to hear from Him.