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

    Welcome, BoyRoy. Apparently you are among friends, nature-lovers all. We hope you will be a regular, and thank you for your nice compliment.

  2. says

    Because there is nothing like seeing a sprout created from a seed you planted, or a flower from a plant you planted. And the feeling of dirt on your hands and smudges across your face makes me feel so alive.

  3. says

    I garden because I love herbs, I have since I was a small child.

    I garden to provide my husband and I with wholesome food that I know isn’t covered in pesticides.

    I garden to make my living space beautiful – apartment=yay porch garden!

    I garden to connect. Connect to the earth. Connect to the farmers in my community. Connect to the farmers in my family’s past.

  4. LJinCalif says

    I think it has to be about hope because it certainly isn’t about the backbreaking work.
    I love looking through the catalogs, dreaming about spring, ordering my seeds, and watching the new sprouts coming up. That different variety or new color is going to be the most beautiful/wonderful thing ever. The anticipation of spring seems to keep me going through the blistering summer heat and the battle against every possible pest. Ticks, pigs, deer, bugs, rattlesnakes, rabbits, foxes, turkeys, gophers, peacocks, you just can’t imagine the wildlife onslaught. And they’re all hungry. But I love it when my dog flys down to the garden, lifts off and grabs an apple in mid-flight. I laughed all day when I caught him trying to pick up a cantaloupe. And I’m thinking about having some t-shirts made to clarify what gardening in the Sierra Nevada foothills is all about. “If you’re not bleeding, you’re not gardening.”

  5. says

    Welcome, LJinCalif. So it’s a case of dreams and nightmares, huh? Here my companions include rabbits, woodchucks, chipmunks, bear, deer (fenced out now, as are bear), snakes incl. timber rattlers, ticks, horseflies, mayflies, coyote, turkey, fox, bobcat (across the road), raccoons, bats, possum, the occasional porcupine, skunks galore, and yes, turkeys, hawks, vultures, and all the other birdies. And my frogboys. Forgetting many creatures but can’t recall. Oh, yes, one very large cat, but he doesn’t play catch (except with mice, voles, moles, chippies, weasels, rabbits). Animal planet. My favorite part, mostly, though not sure how I’d co-habitate w/pigs exactly.

  6. says

    I think I garden because it seems like such a miracle to me to put a seed in the ground and end up with a vegetable or a flower. I first did it as a little girl with a watermelon seed and actually grew a watermelon in our back yard. I transplanted a tiny pine tree from a family time on a picnic and saw it, years later, growing huge and tall in our old back yard. It is just a source of happiness to have color and fragrance greet me when I leave the house and enter our garden. I just can’t think of anything better. What a gift nature is.

  7. says

    Hi Margaret – I’m new to your blog and am enjoying it quite a bit.

    I started to garden because I wanted to enhance the curb appeal of our new home. But now, I garden because it’s my escape from everyday life. There’s no greater comfort (or reward) than to make your surroundings beautiful for you and for others to enjoy. I love it …

  8. says

    Welcome, Beth, all the way from ND. I love the story of how, even though you started out with a rational, practical motivation you, too, have ended up in the heap with the rest of us: on the verge of addicted, no? Nice to see you here.

  9. Johanna says

    I too, am new to your blog, and it’s wonderful! You are most hospitable!

    Thank you for asking this question. I too, relate to your idea of connection – connection to the radiant natural world and to my family.

    My parents grew up on dairy farms in Wisconsin, as did their whole families, extending back to our ancestors, who came from Scandinavia and Germany. On both sides the land was homesteaded and, amazingly, still held in family ownership.

    So I grew up in the gardens of my grandparents and parents, wearing floppy hats, playing and being bit. My dad worked with farmers and my mom took the rotational turn of chairing the local garden club. My brother and I did a lot of weeding and watering! Oh, how we complained!

    I have, in adulthood, continued gardening, growing household plants, and buying from local farmers. And since the passing of my dad, this all has come to mean so much more.

    Thank you again.

  10. says

    Welcome, Johanna. I am touched by what you have written. Half of my mother’s family came from Germany to Racine, WI, and ran a local mercantile store as I understand it. My Grandmother attended the Stout Institute (now part of the Univ of WI) for her degree in home economics. Quite something for a late-Victorian era woman to even go to college…and she was the Garden Club type in my lineage.
    I do not know WI but feel a sentimental attachment, having photo albums full of trips to Shell Lake and other spots, and so your comment is very dear.

  11. Abby says

    First, I have to say that I love this website. Margaret, I visited your garden during one of the GC open days and found it incredibly inspiring. Thank you for taking the time to answer all of my questions!

    I have only been gardening for a few years and now am addicted to it. I am in the process of filling a bookcase full of garden books and spent many hours on the internet researching various plants during the winter.

    Now I am filled with wonder when I look at the plants I grew from seed; it gives me great joy and a sense of peace to see the beauty I have helped to create. Although weeds are the bane of my existence, I have to admit that I get a lot of satisfaction and immediate gratification from pulling them (how many things can you say that about?) So many things to do in the garden and so little time …

  12. says

    i garden because it saved my life once.
    i garden because it saves my soul daily.

    it started with a major life crisis and an 8×10 plot in a brownstone front yard in park slope [and a hammer and broken cement and topsoil and…]

    it continued with a major move to a rental railroad in the hudson valley to create a secret garden from nothing.

    a rental, crazy you say? not when it saves your life and soul daily.

    the joy of taking a plot of nothingness, all scrabble and junk, and CREATING beauty (well, in my eyes) and being allowed to see the growth and changes thru the season.

    talking to the converted here, i know you all know what that is.

    and now time to go and revive the heat weary plants – and revel in the glory of it all and how grateful i am to have it.

  13. says

    @Sogalitno: How about some remedy to revive the weary gardeners, too, about now? Yikes! :) Beautiful thoughts; life-saver on this end, too, but that’s an old, old story for another time.

  14. says

    I garden because even though I only harvest a handful of golden and red raspberries at a time, they are MY raspberries and there is a certain thrill in that.

  15. joyce says

    I garden so I can reek of deet,dig in the dirt, sweat through my clothes, chew on ice, convene with rabbits who think they are invisible while they eat my plants, nosy catbirds REALLY sounding like annoyed cats, and huge robins vying for a turn at the birdbath. And the hummingbirds that appear when you know they will because the air becomes still. From the street, I can see my private world of riotous color begin at the top of my driveway, along with a moving flash of orange – my neighbor’s cat rolling in my catmint, drunk out of his mind, and I can’t wait to get back to work in that garden.

  16. says

    Your essay is extremely well put and resonates with me entirely.

    You either love being covered in mulch and dirt or you don’t. I feel most at peace when I’m out there by myself, sweating in a most unladylike way and growing things I can eat or that are just plain beautiful.

    Gardening Examiner

  17. says

    a propos, there is this in the wsj.
    the author does refer to how her garden seems to reprise her father’s garden. likewise, i learned to garden in my pop’s vegetable garden, and i find that i can have my best thought conversations with my pops while in my vegetable garden. not channeling, just sharing some laughs across the galaxies.

  18. says

    I found this post thru Robin Wedewer. It’s wonderful. I garden for many of the reasons you listed, especially because it’s cheaper than therapy & because I can’t not do it. But the main thing is because there is always something to look forward to. I’m always happiest when I’m waiting for something good, rather than when I’ve got it. That thrill of anticipation is what gets me. Even in the middle of winter it keeps me going, pouring over seed & plant catalogues, dreaming of what my garden will look like in the coming year. As I’ve commented before elsewhere, if I could no longer garden or be in a garden, I don’t think life would be worth living. Someday I’ll have to find an assisted living facility with extensive, accesible gardens for the residents.

  19. says

    Welcome, Mr. McGregor’s Daughter. Yes, anticipation…and dreams. When the time comes, by the way, all of us who have commented here will be in the other rooms down the hall I suspect. But hopefully we have a few more springs before then.

  20. Anne Boden says

    There is a theme here…we garden because we HAVE to do so!
    Perhaps we gardeners will save the world, one little plot at a time!
    I’ve been gardening since I was 4 years old, my first success was a yellow pear tomato plant! I’ve never stopped gardening. I can’t either.

  21. Donna Oglesby says

    It is about nesting, connecting and belonging for me.

    As a child nomad (Army brat) and then as a career Foreign Service Officer uprooted every few years by a new global assignment, I never had the chance to put down roots. Now, I plant trees and expect to be in the same place long enough to sit under them when planting them is no longer a physical possibility. To belong to a place so completely that I know the earth by its worms, can read the coming bird traffic by the unfolding blooms and berries and can lose myself daily in its — and my — transformation is complete joy.

  22. Ann says

    I am new to gardening. My husband and I joined a community garden last year and I didn’t know much and I was afraid of the dirt.

    This year I no longer fear the dirt. I really love kneeling on the ground and pulling weeds.

    I garden because…
    it gives me a connection to our neighborhood where we have met so many wonderful people.
    I am constantly amazed how things grow (that a cucumber grows from a skinny vine.)
    time stands still and there is peace and beauty even though so much is going on outside the garden’s gate.

    I think your blog is so inspiring and have sent it to my fellow gardeners.


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