This is my August contribution to the NWTC newsletter, What’s Cooking?
To complement the post, I ran around my yard and shot some photos and video and put them together in a montage.
For food, for exercise, to add beauty, to learn, to make money, to meet people, to be creative, to win gardening contests, for emotional needs and a spiritual connection, for lasting memories; at least, those are the top ten reasons listed by the National Garden Bureau at ngb.org. No mention was made of the reason because I have to or else the hill on which my house stands will wash away with the rain if I uproot the wild grape vines, milkweed, and other invasive species spinning a cocoon of weeds around my house, as though spun by evil caterpillars that drink Round Up for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It may be that my initial impetus for gardening was something less honorable then the NGB’s top ten. It may be that my initial efforts were driven more by my wife’s joy of gardening than my own. It may be that my early labors at gardening were the product of a thoughtless physical reaction to a wife, who, like a female Ben Hur, drove me mercilessly to pull the chariot that was our garden—not with a whip made of leather, but with hurled implements; rakes, spades, hoes, pick-axes, trowels; driving me harder, further, deeper into the ground until I’d rear up at end of day lathered in a thick foam of muddy sweat like Sea biscuit after the Preakness. “Is that all, honey?” I’d whimper, “Can I be done now, puh-leeze?”
However, that is the case no longer. I now garden for some of my own reasons. My son gardens for food, beauty, creativity, and to learn. My daughter gardens for food, beauty, and spirituality. Anyone who has any plant, indoors or out, requiring attention, is a gardener for some reason. I grew up in a family of gardeners, spending summers at my grandparents where the only grass existing was on the boulevard where my grandpa would put the garbage cans on Sunday nights, and which he would mow with a rotary push mower, the revolving horizontal blades whirring, throwing a gentle arc of fresh clippings behind it, covering his black oxfords with a damp green hair. The land behind the seventy-five feet of sidewalk, too precious for grass, was managed for peak vegetable production, and an apple tree—for food.
I couldn’t understand why my grandparents and my uncle Don would spend every waking moment in the garden, digging, pulling, planting, harvesting, watering. To what end, I wondered–isn’t that what grocery stores were for? For what reason would one spend all day under a hot sun, toiling, when one could be fishing or playing kick ball; and later, as an adult, when one could be reading a book in the shade under a tree or bike riding down a quiet country road.
From what I could tell, Uncle Leo, a retired pharmacist, had it figured out. If he was outside, it was usually in a chair, with a magazine, the radio, sunflower seeds, and a can of Budweiser making a wet ring on the pavement next to him. The only thing I remembered enjoying about gardening those many years ago was digging for potatoes, possibly a genetic sequence from an Irish heritage; nonetheless, a penchant for digging that persists to modern day such that if I have to plant something, I’d just as soon as it be big so I’d have to dig a bigger hole. Despite this curious fondness of digging, I’ve regarded gardening for most of my life as an odious labor best avoided, I think, because of the time spent during my formative years, surrounded by gardens whose sole inanimate task seemed to be in keeping my uncles from taking me fishing.
I ask again…Why garden?
Because it brings me joy. Because I can create a special place, a sanctuary, where I might rest at close of day, surrounded by colors and beauty that wouldn’t be otherwise but for my attention (and my wife’s). And for every one of the top ten reasons, except, of course, for “to make money,” and “to win contests” which is decidedly not the case—more aptly I’d say would be, “to spend money,” and “honorable mention for ‘most improved’ (in my own mind).”
Gardening does not have to be restricted to landowners solely. Many communities have a “Community Garden” where small plots of land can be cultivated by community members. Door County’s newest garden, The Community’s Garden, is coming to fruition at The Garden on 16th Place, between Michigan Street & Rhode Island. So, there is no excuse, should there exist a desire.
To garden or not to garden, that is the question before you. I choose to garden.