why do you garden?

WHY DO YOU GARDEN? I keep asking myself daily as I risk sunstroke to mow and weed and drag hoses round the place. And why do you garden? Some of you have told us, I know, but yesterday when I was in for my third cold shower between rounds, I thought, “Why do I do this?” and figured maybe some of you were wondering exactly the same thing about yourselves.

I garden because I cannot help myself.

I garden because I cannot look out the window and see the shaggy bits any longer, and have to go “fix it” (as if it will ever be “fixed”).

I garden because I do not know what my life would be without plants, truth be told. They speak to me at some level I can’t explain, each one in a slightly different voice.

I garden because it’s the only place (other than on some shrink’s couch, maybe, which would probably be cheaper) that I can be myself, completely and absolutely.

I garden because it’s the only place I don’t feel I have to wear mascara.

I garden because it makes me feel connected. Today, for instance, not long after Shower #3, I finally keyed out a bird who’s been flitting from the big rhodie out back to a pear and a lilac not far apart, a blue-gray and yellow warbler I simply could not ID. Finally, an illustrated guidebook in my filthy, manicure-less hand, it struck me: She is the girlfriend of the American redstart male I saw the other day, the flashy little black, white and orange guy who was in the spruce maybe 15 feet away. They could not look more different.

Actually, as it turns out, she may be one of two girlfriends. Seems the dandy redstart is a playboy (and a land baron, too). The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says he is “occasionally is polygynous, having two mates at the same time.” As if that’s not bold enough, he keeps them in different territories, up to 500 meters apart, unlike other polygynous birds, and waits till female #1 is incubating her egg before he runs off with #2. (I will reserve comment on that behavior, or almost.)

I would never have know this (or counted birds each winter for various citizen science projects) if not for my gardening. Like I said, it makes me feel connected.

I garden because I like Italian-style green beans, the ones called ‘Romano’ or flat-podded, the ones I had for dinner last night.

I garden because when I brush up against the tomato foliage, it smells like…well, you all know that tomato-foliage smell, and the inky green juice the bruised foliage leaves on your trousers and skin.

I garden, as I say, because I cannot help myself. And so out I go again, now, but not before asking: Why do you garden?

July 18, 2008


  1. says

    Greetings from Blithewold! My new huzz said to me the other day when I clearly should have been napping under a cold faucet rather than mowing the lawn and dragging hoses, “you’re just so driven.” It’s a struggle sometimes to garden for a living and be driven to make a garden at home too. But like Carol says, I guess it’s just a necessary part of this business of being alive and I can’t help myself either. (New huzz is up for sainthood – especially when he offers to mow.)
    I’m looking forward to meeting you this fall!

  2. says

    My favorite question. In the Spring when things are beginning to grow and the thrill of a new start in never ending, the answer is simple: It gives me great joy. In mid-90 degree temperatures with equal humidity, sweat pouring off me like a water tap and the never ending struggle to keep things watered and alive, the answer is simple: I must be addicted (or crazy). [and then I turn the garden hose on myself so I don’t pass out in the cutting garden] As the season winds down and the beauty fades, the answer is simple: I long for Spring once again.

    You’re right Margaret.. there really is no description for that tomato foliage smell. It just smells green and healthy. Gotta love it.

  3. says

    @Carol: I should have known you’d be first, and tell the absolute bottom-line truth: It’s like breathing.

    Welcome, Kris, from beautiful Blithewold in RI. The huzz sounds like a keeper, for sure.

    @Garden Guy: As for you, Kenn…yup, crazy. Me, too.

  4. benjia morgenstern says

    Yesterday was a two shower day! I ‘m struggling to lay out a shade garden..can’t get it the way I want it so I’ll be back out today. Loving it …frustration and all. benjia

  5. Jim/ArtofGardening says

    I garden because I’m in charge of the country’s largest garden tour – more than 300 gardens. (you’re all invited – it’s next weekend- http://gardenwalkbuffalo.com/).
    Being the president of the group I’m under (self-induced) pressure to at least have a presentable garden.

  6. Deanna says

    I’m with Garden Guy Kenn, because I’m addicted. Even yesterday after work when it was mid 90’s and near same humidity here in the Midwest, I had to go water some things. Then I deadheaded. Then I gave all my plant pots good haircuts so they can come back strong again with this heat. And in between, I watered myself! I just zone out, talk to my plants. I’m in my own little world, they like me there.

  7. Dooryarder says

    I’m sitting in my Manhattan office thinking about the smell of tomato foliage. How quickly can I get out of here today – from a job I love – and return to something that, in the end, is more important to me? Is there any chance I’ll be watering in Columbia County by dinner-time? This is why I garden.

  8. Stephanie says

    Loved the reference to that oh-so-wonderful and distinct smell of tomato plants and the green “blush” they leave on one’s skin and clothing.

    Also want to know if those are your tomatoes or a stock photo accompanying the piece? If they’re yours, please share the secret of how you got them so soon! Mine are barely pea-sized at this point — guess who’s impatient???

  9. says

    What a wonderful question, Margaret! So many reasons…bountiful colors, endless textures, memory-making scents, good healthy sweat, the chance to create a beautiful scene wherever the eye might rest…

    Mostly, I think I garden because I can’t imagine NOT gardening. (Though, I can imagine how glorious it would be to have a water hook-up in the back yard and not have to haul 30 gallons of water in 2-gallon increments in 90-degree heat [I can’t even dream about a soaker hose system — way too out there…])

  10. Kathy says

    Maybe it’s a Garden of Eden thing, I can’t resist the temptation..I love to garden. I’m at work now reading your web-site anxious to get hot, sweaty and dirty in my garden.

  11. katlia says

    I garden because, my children in their late teens, I miss hands-on nurturing.

    I garden because a garden makes a house a home.

    I garden because gardens make a street a neighborhood.

    I garden because I find a profound truth about life in the change of seasons and its effect on nature.

    I garden because I never gardened before I was in my 40s and have decades of passion to catch up on.

    I garden because in the summer I don’t knit. Another passion I discovered in my 40s.

    I garden because in myself I see changes as time goes on and realize I am part of a grand and enduring design.

    I garden because the failures keep me humble and because my husband now calls me very lovingly ‘dirt bag’ and that makes me smile.

  12. says

    Welcome, Mother Nature. :) I liked typing that welcome…and it sounds like gardening has you firing on all cylinders. See you soon again, we hope.

    @Stephanie: No, my tomato-filled shirt is fro a previous year, sorry to say. No fruit here for weeks at least.

    I love hearing that others soak themselves (not just the plants) and therefore I presume look about as un-put-together as I do by day’s end. I love the naughty, hookey-playing thoughts (Dooryarder) and the just plain naughty ones (Kathy) and all the ones that speak to the pull it has on us, the magnetism. And I love that Katlia is a dirt bag.

  13. writermom says

    Why do I garden? For all of those great, poetic reasons, plus some of my own, but the real reason may be that it’s a hell of a lot more fun than cooking and housework.

    (You cook dinner tonight, dear … I’m busy growing it…)

    (Listen, daughter, you must clean the house, because if I have do it, we’ll have no food!)

    Must dig now…

  14. says

    We garden because we love to eat the food we grow. We grow our own food because we do not believe in contributing in the machine of industrial agriculture.

    We garden because we are obsessed with what new creature we can help bring forth from the soil. We work this soil because it helps it become healthier and more viable. If the soil is more viable, the Earth is more viable.

    We garden because we can’t resist the joy of assisting in creation. All around us the planet is creating and remaking itself and this is our little way of participating and feeling like part of the larger Universe.

    We garden because we feel the pull of the outdoors and the call of the Earth to nurture it and, therefore, nurture ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually.

    We garden because it’s COOL!!

  15. says

    Welcome, Shibaguyz: I love the part about “help bring forth” and also agree that it’s VERY cool. (Except today, when it is VERY hot.) Thank you, and please don’t be strangers. See you soon again.

  16. says

    I garden because it would be pretty ridiculous to be named “Fern” and have a brown thumb!

    Just kidding. I mostly garden because I too cannot help myself. And because it is so unbelievably amazing that you can stick a pebble-looking thing in some dirt and it will eventually grow into something beautiful, or useful, or edible (or all three!). The magnificence of nature humbles me without making me feel small. I can appreciate my tiny place in the world without being made to feel insignificant.

  17. Tammy says

    I garden because of those moments where I catch my breath in surprise (the first blush on the first tomato of the year) or the first Monarch happily flitting from flower to flower, that I planted. or watching a male redbird feed his mate while I very quietly watch without breathing. Oh, the things I would miss without my garden. (Ok, now I need a tissue.)

  18. Brian G. says

    I garden because of the feelings I get when I transform a patch of hard, rocky soil into a crumbly 12 to 18 inch deep bed of chocolate cake deliciousness that the earth worms (and chipmunks, unfortunately) like to call home. The feelings are physical (as in exhaustion) as well as emotional. I only do this on weekends but on these weekends I sleep well and soundly, I think more clearly and expansively and I never, ever dwell on what is waiting for me back at my desk in NYC. That last bit alone is worth the aches and pains and the Monday morning Fred Sanford walk!

  19. says

    Great post Margaret, Yes; I can’t help myself
    I must garden. I am attracted to the “good earth” to all sorts of plants, sun and fresh air, colour and texture, birds and all the creatures that inhabit my garden with me… and I am always hungry for more!

  20. mss @ Zanthan Gardens says

    I didn’t know I had a choice.

    Obsession? Compulsion? The need to feel “grounded” (physically and emotionally) by sticking my hands in the dirt.

  21. says

    I don’t garden outside when it’s above 90 out there, except to water plants that are wilting. I pretend it’s raining out there and do inside work. But I get up early and work before it gets hot, and wander out after supper to see what deadheading I can do.

    I remember my grandmother’s garden. I think I am trying to recreate how I felt in her garden.

  22. BoyRoy says

    I absolutely love this blog! I garden because it makes me feel connected to nature and I love the resilency of nature…it’s amazing.

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