“And Yahweh God took the man and set him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it.”
We rented our home in Tahiti after seeing only one photo. Rising groggily the morning after our late-night arrival, we took stock. The house was clean and barely furnished with rickety beds, an ancient leather couch that is well-described as a predator, and a nice kitchen table. The kitchen had minimal cabinet space, a microwave so old that it had a ticking egg timer instead of digital, the bathrooms no doors. And then there was the garden.
We saw that the garden was enclosed by a semi-finished, semi-broken cinder block wall that had rebar poking up every few feet or so. The mortar was uneven, and the overall effect was soviet-era ugly. Ugh. So much for first impressions. The second impression was that of neglect. Yes, there were mango, banana, and breadfruit trees planted around in haphazard fashion, with other shrubs and flowers underneath, barely distinguishable one from the other. Tahiti is a tropical jungle. This garden had been neglected for years, so that the plants had grown, rambled, tangled, and warred. Invasive vines wrapped trunks and branches, trees threatened power lines, and even though it is only 10,000 square feet, it felt as though one could get lost in there.
The house was a few hundred meters from a humble beach that accessed a sublime stretch of coral reef, so we stayed, and soon, we discovered the power of soil, sunshine, and rain. Cut a plant, stick it in soil, and watch it grow. Great fun. On our neighborhood walks and driving excursions we would stop at a tree or plant we liked and clip it for potting. This has been a great hobby for many months now, but we realized that many of our plantings needed transplanting into the yard. Something had to happen.
A month ago, I considered what I liked and disliked about our garden. The owners had done some high pruning on the trees but left the rest to us by mutual agreement. I did not like the stray cinder blocks scattered here and there. I removed them. I liked the lava boulders but did not like where they were. I moved and organized them into groups and places that added interest and symmetry. I noted spots that could use a tree to fill in or a bush or vine hide a stretch of ugly wall. Most of all, I detested the tangle. Well, we have a limb saw and pruning clippers. I set to work. I had no idea I was going on a voyage of discovery.
John 15:1–2, “1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch that does not bear fruit in me, he removes it, and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes it in order that it may bear more fruit.”
I removed, I scaled back, I chopped, I cut, I dug, I pruned. Seemingly with each cut a new plant was revealed. I felt like Joseph Banks, the botanist for Captain Cook. Underneath it all I realized I was finding the original plantings of the grandmother of the current owners, and that it was not the random mess of a raving mad gardener but the forgotten ground of a true lover of plants. As Ursula Mary Bethell concluded in her wistful poem ‘Time’, “This must have been a pretty garden once.” It is well on the way to being that once again as we plant the trees and flowers we have cultivated from seed and cutting.
Now, what were all these plants? There’s an app for that! According to Picture This! there were over 60 species of trees, plants, and herbs in our garden, to which we have added another dozen and more. We have breadfruit, coffee, lime, guava, mango, two kinds of bananas, passionfruit, and avocados. We have hibiscus, bougainvillea, Tiare’ Tahiti gardenias, five colors of frangipanis, and no less than ten different species of palm trees. We have a monstera cutting from the 100-year-old original in James Norman Hall’s garden in Arue. We have plants from southeast Asia, Indonesia, Australia, USA, and South America. And having become avid in our hobby, we find and cut more and more plants every week.
Matthew 13:23, “But what was sown on the good soil—this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces, this one a hundred times as much, and this one sixty, and this one thirty.””
We live in Tahiti, where the church is a broken-down and neglected tangle of cults and false doctrines, groaning under the burdens of tradition. Thorny vines of legalism and outrageous corruption and malpractice have left their marks on the faithful. Every bad religious movement in history seems to have found good soil in the biblical ignorance of the people. So, we share the Gospel, we teach, we encourage, we translate, we collect books, and yes, we discover hidden treasures in people whose gifts and lives have been entangled by the evils of this place. It is the hard work of gardening, plain and true. Please pray for more willing souls to prune, nourish, and water back to health this precious body of people in Tahiti and her isles.