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, Ann….to the blog, and to the fold. I love that even though you say that you are new to it, you finish your comments by saying you “have sent it to my fellow gardeners.” You know you’re hooked, and that you’re one of us.

  2. Lisa says

    I garden because it gives me hope and joy (even if I’m covered in sweat and dirt).

    I garden because creating a diverse wildlife habitat where there was once nothing but lawn, has given us experiences.

    Watching a red-spotted purple butterfly puddling where I just watered this morning, seeing the fledgling brown thrashers learn to forage, watching the goldfinches glean seeds from the front meadow — all of this is magic, in a place that we’ve planted and continue to help steward back to something better.

    Harvesting tomatoes and squash from the kitchen garden, digging in homemade compost, harvesting blueberries, dumping my coffee grounds in the compost pail, cooking from the garden, learning interesting things about what I’m planting — the whole process help connect me to what sustains us through growing some of our own food.

    Most of all, I garden because I love to be in my garden, and enjoy caring for it, with another unexpected joy to have pleasure writing about it!


  3. Sun Moon Lake says

    because i have the privilege to garden, even in williamsburg, brooklyn. For the joy and flavor of home grown food, for cut flowers, for the bees and bugs and birds who have so little left in urban settings. And, most poignantly, to stop thinking too much and become depressed. Somehow I am able to quiet my mind and just garden, an difficult exercise elsewhere. I hope one day I won’t NEED to garden to be happy, but simply be happy and garden, too.

  4. says

    Welcome, Carol. Ah! You are claiming the inherited-trait defense, huh? Glad to see you here and hope you will come again soon. As for the bumblebees, aren’t they amazing? So fat and fuzzy.

  5. cat says

    All of the above. I garden as counterpoint to a bookish, sedentary life. I have lived and worked very happily among books, students, words and ideas all my life. So, I garden because it’s both physical and it’s outdoors! Like everyone else, I sweat, get dirty, ache and curse the crabgrass. What joy!

    Oh, and I garden because I can go barefoot (sometimes), go bra-less (always) and go sit in the shade of my tulip tree with a cold drink whenever I want.

    Love your blog.

  6. andrea says

    Amazing to read quite a few replies that take the words right out of my mouth and even more amazing, some of the same dear thoughts right out of my memories! I love reading them all. Thanks again and again Margaret.

  7. Bob Newman says

    Margaret, What a question! I have no easy answer; neither of my parents were gardeners (they were golfers) and neither of my children are (one’s a fisherman, the other is a golfer – this gene must skip a generation). I am the odd member of the family who is, and always was, out in the garden.
    Today, my two sisters were visiting me at my cottage in Columbia County, on a very hot and humid day. One sister called out from the screen porch: “Bob, stop working in the garden, it is too hot. Take a nap; relax!” I told her: “‘Relax’ is not a word in my vocabulary.”
    I laughed to read your comment about looking out the window, and seeing some ‘shaggy thing’, and not being able to help yourself, you had to go out and ‘fix it’. Sounds just like me. When I told one local tree man up this way that seeing the dead lower branches in the sixty foot tall Norway Spruce on my property drove me crazy, his response was: “Then don’t look up.” Not possible.

  8. says

    Welcome Sun Moon Lake, and Cat. Good new reasons, respectively: To stop thinking too much; to be less bookish (and braless!). Thank you both.

    Welcome, also, to Bob. The “Relax!” part made me squeal because it’s something I don’t “get,” either. Thanks to you, too.

    Hope that all of you will visit again soon.

  9. Suzie says

    I started gardening when I was 7 or 8 (I am now close to 50). As the oldest of seven children, I was put in charge of the flower and vegetable gardens. It was the one chore I loved, even at such an early age, partly because it was time spent alone – a commodity that was rare while I was growing up – and partly from the sheer wonderment and satisfaction of watching everything grow. I credit my mother for awakening that spark. I can’t even imagine a life without gardening.

    Four years ago, when I met my husband, he told me how much he loved gardening, so much so, that he had thought about joining a gardening club to meet women with the same love. My heart melted. We married a year later and have spent every day working in our gardens, planning new ones, and enjoying them together.

    I am truly blessed.

  10. turling says

    I ask myself this questions often, recently. We’ve moved into a new home with a, roughly, 10,000 sq. ft. lot (huge by Southern California standards) containing too much lawn (ANY is too much for me), sorry shrubbery and trees in the wrong spots. I’ve been doing a lot of clearing and not much planting, other than a hill of lavendar with a couple of Italian Cypruss in a section of the front. This past weekend, while spending my 12th hour digging out the stump of a 10 year old Mangnolia tree, I asked the question, again. It was answered 10 minutes later, when the stump gave up the battle and I rolled it (after three attempts) out of the hole hot, sweaty, cut and sore. An honest days work is good for the soul.

  11. says

    Welcome, Suzie, with your tender tale of love (of the garden, and of your gardener husband). Perhaps I need to get me to a garden club??? :)

    And hello, Turling. Love this part: “An honest day’s work is good for the soul.” Thanks.

  12. says

    I garden because it is the one activity that actually brings my family together with unexpected happiness all around. I get to make the plans and select the plants; my spouse likes to do a lot of the dirty work, though I do my fair share of digging, and our young daughter (age 6) pitches in with either real assistance (bring us rakes and trowels, et cetera) or with her observations—in between bike rides or petting the cats, she points out which flowers are blooming, which blossoms attract the most butterflies or bees or whatever, et cetera. Gardening together is wonderfully peaceful, even though all we’ve really done is build raised beds that seem to be half-weed and half-flowers most of the time.

  13. says

    No worry, An Aesthete’s Lament…I immediately saw a picture of happiness both in and out of the garden when I read your comment. Nice to think of the three of you, and that your daughter is getting the connection so early.

  14. Eddie From Tennessee says

    I garden in part to honor the memory of my beloved Papaw..who taught and loved me well…I garden so my boys will feel comfortable and interested in this life changing hobby…I garden to see that proud smile on my wifes face that says well done my lover ….. but wow is this an expensive hobby..I garden because I love dirt and those ugly looking Monday morning nails…I garden because I’m odd and a bit strange…and enjoy being left alone for hours at a time…I garden because I ABSOLUTELY 110 percent LOVE IT….and because this passion introduced me to the one who brings us all here…the Divine Ms. Roach…eg

  15. says

    @Eddie: There you go again, being nice to me. You know how I feel about that kind of behavior. :)
    Really, though, I love the part about your wife’s face saying “well done my lover” when you complete a garden project and that you “love being left alone for hours.” Great sharing, as ever.

  16. says

    For me, the question is probably more like, “Why WILL I garden?” I don’t have any land to sow yet, but I am designed, wired and predestined to sow some land, somewhere, some day. It’s one of those things I feel in my bones. It has me thinking about genetics, too. My paternal grandfather and my maternal grandmother are both born gardeners…and the results were spectacular. My father, too, is a happy toiler in the soil. But when a man without land finds himself sketching gardens, tip-toeing up driveways to snap photos of other people’s plants and turning his balcony into a mini jungle, you know that it’s only a matter of time before he calls himself a gardener. You’re a great guide and example, Margaret, for the late-bloomers among us.

  17. laura says


    no, i don’t garden because I “have to” or because I need to “fix something.” i garden because it is fun! when else can you get dirty, eat, not be bothered by teenage children and play with plants?? (not necessarily in that order)

  18. Dean Riddle says

    I garden because I don’t know how not to garden; I’ve been doing it for 39 of my 50 years. Gardening is what I do best. I do it because it makes me feel alive in the world. When I’m in my garden I’m not just IN the world, I’m OF the world, I AM the world.
    I garden so that I can play house outside, and stay out till dark, and get up at the crack of dawn and do it all over again. And never get enough.
    I garden because when I”m old, and nearing the end of my trail, I’ll know that I followed my heart and did what I was born to do. I garden so that I’ll keep meeting people like you, Margaret.
    I garden because I love zinnias and so did my mother.

  19. says

    Gardening is about the only thing I do in my life that is purely for myself. My job is about kids, all of my other hobbies (cooking and crafting) usually end up benefiting someone else. It may sound selfish but I love to go into a nursery and buy something I love bring it home and put it where I want it and not have to worry about anyone else. It gives me peace. I have also made many great garden friends online and through my garden club.

  20. Borntodig says


    I must have been born with a shovel in my mitts. Why do I garden… love being outside, digging in the dirt… I’m reminded of a Chinese Proverb:

    When the sun rises, I go to work.
    When the sun goes down, I take my rest.
    I dig the well from which I drink.
    I farm the soil which yields my food.
    I share creation.
    Kings can do no more

  21. says

    Welcome, Borntodig. I guess we didn’t even need your answer, just your nickname, huh? Thanks for the poem, and come back soon.

    Here’s to finding one’s garden (Andrew); to fun (Laura); to BEING the world (Dean); to cherishing something of one’s own, and peace (Nichole). All well-said.

  22. Chris Paquette says

    When I was 5 or 6 years old my parents gave me a tiny section of their vegetable garden that was my own space…I grew carrots I think. 40+ years later I can still remember the feeling I got from growing something from a seed into something I could eat. I have had the soul of a gardener ever since, and I would never need to pose the question “why do you garden?”… for me the biggest mystery is those who don’t.

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