February 23, 2010

Why I Garden

Why do I garden?  The short answer is because I had to; we moved into a half acre blank slate of a lot with no landscaping, and I wanted some privacy in our back yard.

 The long answer is ..... longer.  My friend Jane is an anthropology professor at Trinity College, and she is writing a book on the social aspects of gardening.  She's published academic topics before, but this one will be a popular book for the average person to read to understand why people garden and who does it.  She asked me why I do.  So I had to think about it.

When the necessity of filling our blank yard drove me to nurseries and garden shops, I began to realize I was getting a visceral pump out of finding just the right plant for just the right spot, putting it in and seeing it thrive.  I was even getting a kick out of my failures: "well, that just up and died, I wonder what would do better here?"

And I was positively getting an endorphin high when I saw compositions and  colors and forms start to come together pleasingly.  Fall colors that exploded into something I didn't know I could produce and hadn't expected.

Spring scenes that surprised.  But even the prettiest of garden sights didn't keep me from constant reevaluation: "What could I put here?  How can I face down that leggy shrub?  I need more of something over there.  I just hate that purple with that red.  Where could I plant this?  Dimemsions?  Mature size?  Too narrow?  Too flashy and blowsy?  What will work at the far end of that space?"

I wasn't crazy about the dirt and the bugs and hot sweaty days in the garden in July or finger numbing afternoons in November. And don't get me started about the worm and compost thing.  But I loved, positively loved, the planning and designing stages.  Wandering around the yard surveying, assessing everything.  Winters spent with catalogs and endless MoBot internet searches.  I created a massive database in AppleWorks with so much detail (photos! searchable plant files!  Latin translations!  height at ten years!  diagrams! possible companions!) that it took 45 minutes to open the file each time.

It began to dawn on me that I like the problem solving challenges in my garden.  The things I had been good at when I worked in a complex office environment were the things I was good at in the complex ecosystem of my yard: getting individuals to work together, filling gaps with strong performers when weaker specimens aren't getting it done.  Seeing an elegant solution arise from a dirty messy beginning.  Planning, researching and implementing design specs.  Worrying about performance.

Okay, people aren't plants and I'm stretching the metaphor (although I did spend one Spring mentally debating which former coworkers would be which plants in my garden, but because I don't grow vegetables, the exercise foundered.)

But I enjoy the mental work of fixing problems in my yard with solutions that can be so lovely, that are living, growing, problematic individuals all with their own quirky needs, and outcomes I can dream of, but can't always predict.

So I told Jane that I garden to solve problems, which makes it sound rather like going to the office, which it is for me.

But it really isn't.

Visit My Gardens


  1. Your gardens are lovely and you seem to have done your homework well. People garden for so many reasons, but I bet most ardent gardeners get the same rush as you from the process. I know I do.

  2. Joene, thanks for visiting. It was kind of a surprise to find how much I enjoy the rush!

  3. I think there is a lot of creativity that goes into the problem solving. It is thrilling!

  4. You caught the gardening bug that's for sure! I love the planning and designing too, but I'm not as organized as you are. And the research, that's fun too.

    I agree, the unexpected is part of the charm of gardening. And gardeners can never resist moving stuff around. lol

  5. Garden Ms. S and sweet bay: You understand the "thrill" part of the great outdoors. I never knew!

  6. The changes from your first picture to the later one's are awesome! I especially like the birch planting area with the bench. Perfect for a nice breezy summer day to sit out under its shade.

  7. Thanks, Dave. I do sit on that little bench with my coffee in the morning!

  8. How wonderful to see the before and "after" photos - you have done a fabulous job. I also enjoy the thought processes behind my garden.

    Those birches are beautiful.

  9. Thanks for the compliments Karen!

  10. Wow! Great blog! I have been an amateur garden for a couple of years now, randomly buying things and sticking them in soil anxiously waiting to see what happens. I love what you describe here - the planning and designing. I need to think more like this. I will be following you closely!

    1. Daisy, welcome! I'm glad you found some inspiration here.


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