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?

CategoriesNature woo woo
  1. margaret says:

    Welcome, Anna. “Adult-onset ADD.” Yes! I have it. I call it “puttering,” or “grazing,” to try to make it sound less troubling, but it’s exactly what you describe. Come back soon (when you are finished wandering around out there).

  2. Anna says:

    I’ve pondered this question on my knees in my garden since you posted it. I’ve come to the conclusion that I garden because it’s an acceptable outlet for my adult onset ADD. Deadhead here for a while, on the way to the compost realize that there are weeds to be pulled there, why not add them to the dead headed pile and take it all to the compost corner? And doesn’t that compost need a little attention too? By the time I’m done wandering around my garden, my mind’s quieter and I can see progress. It drives me back the next day to do it all again.

  3. Country gardener says:

    I garden because I like makeovers, or transformations. In creating two gardens (don’t know if I’d have the energy for a third one), we first turned an ugly city property into something beautiful. Then when we moved to the country, we did the same with a badly neglected 10-acre parcel of land. (Not being able to afford already-gorgeous houses when we were younger meant that we got into the habit of buying fixer-upper houses with grounds that needed lots of TLC.)

    For me, the transformation part of gardening is exciting and challenging, but I have to admit that the day-to-day maintenance is a grind. However, that stuff is crucial because gardening consists of controlling and shaping growth, and responding to change (growth, both wanted and unwanted).

  4. sydney says:

    During the winter months I press my forehead against cold window panes to stare down at the garden. It must be an act of conjuring because before long, mounds of big root geranium, ligularia, heuchera, and an immense chartreuse hosta glowing against deep purple oxalis reappear in all their full fleshy, summer magnificence. As I continue to scan the empty beds, lilies, the pineapple kind and day lily black emanuelle appear in magical 6:30 pm light. And so it goes. In this way the entire garden is resurrected, reworked, perfected. These are private, potentially embarrassing moments because I would be hard pressed to offer a rational explanation for the obsession and longing displayed in this behavior. It’s enough to say that the memories of what was and the anticipation of what eventually will come again is why I garden.

  5. margaret says:

    Welcome, Sydney, and thank you for your private confessional made public. Memories and dreams: the stuff of gardens and gardeners. Do visit again soon.

  6. Martha says:

    Gardening makes me happy. It releases me from the confines of my city existence. It reminds my of my grandmother. It tires my body and energizes my mind. It helps me breathe.

  7. margaret says:

    Welcome, Martha (and you know, I have a soft spot for people named Martha). For many years it released me, too, from the confines of my city life…and then I broke free recently!

  8. Allen S. Penn says:

    I am not a “real” gardener, but I play one on TV. In my amateurish garden, I make a lot of mistakes out of ignorance. I cannot resist getting a little dirty every now and then.
    Recently, I have practiced being “at one” with the weeds. MAYBE it is time to hire a professional landscaper to take care of the routine work. Then, I will have more time to do what I really love–just playing in the dirt. (Got soap?)

  9. margaret says:

    @Allen: We are all playing in the dirt, and all happiest there, I agree. Pulling weeds…well, I have made it a meditation but that took decades of practice. Good thing there are always more weeds to practice on, huh?

  10. Randy says:

    I can’t say why I garden, exactly, but I can tell you when I don’t, I have a heaviness in my chest that almost makes my breathing difficult. When I don’t garden, I feel as though my entire weekend was unproductive and I have an overwhelming since of urgency to get things planted, weeded and dead headed. When I don’t garden, my peace mind is interrupted with thoughts of work, concerns about the future and insufficient finances (caused primarily by my irresistible urges to create a garden paradise). I guess I garden because all the things listed above are replaced by a state of reverence and it is at that point I am truly Randy and all the chaos of everyday life seems to be carried away on the wings of bees and butterflies.

  11. margaret says:

    Welcome, TM. What a great response…from the crabgrass nightmares to the tree house, all of it. I hope to see you here soon again.

  12. tm says:

    i garden for the love the relaxtion and even the stress. i garden to make things beautiful which in return stimulates my mind. i garden to make a mess and have to start all over again. i garden to give the rabbits a place to hide and the moles and voles a place to destroy. i garden because it gets me out of my head and the anxiety that i create for myself. i garden because i love hydrangea , boxwoods, and hollywood junipers. i garden to learn patients. i garden to give me perspective that life can be simple and still rewarding. i garden because crab grass haunts me in my dreams. i garden so i can hang at the nurseries and harass the employees with questions. i garden because my neighbors think i am crazy and my friends don’t understand. i garden so one day a long time from now my grandchildren will have tree house in one of these walnut seedlings.

  13. Cat says:

    I was introduced to gardening by my mother who had a few philodendron in the house and a bed of beautiful flowers, like lilies of the valley, and roses in the back yard. She would tend her plants until her asthma got worse. My grandmother who lived with us always had something blooming on the table in the kitchen. It could be a bunch of violets, or a lily of the violet and of course the roses. Later because of my mother’s asthma that stopped too. I started enjoying my own yard by then and would dig up some of Momma’s plants and replant them in my yard. I even have a sprig of the philodendron from Momma. I gave a sprig to my daughter in law also. I’ve had some problems with my plants recently since I moved to Fl. I brought many plants with me and they did wonderfully. Then, we had a hurricane and I lost quite a few of them going back and forth to a temporary stay at inlaws, rental house, and then back to the restored house. They have been replaced with others that I get from friends and they are doing well also. I’m looking forward to the day when I will have a yard again so that some of them will be in the yard and I can watch the birds and squirrels like I used to, eat and cook outside, and just enjoy being in such wonder of God’s.

  14. Pranamama says:

    My earliest memory of gardening is as a child, squatting down next to my Grandfather’s knee as he plunged a large fork into a mound lifting the buried treasure, a clump of golden potatoes. Watching as he moved in his slow, melodic pace, the absence of rushing,the patience of the plants knowing he would make his way to each one in his own time, the energy was magical. That is why I garden, to be present in the peaceful, magical energy which is unique to the garden.

  15. margaret says:

    Welcome, Pranamama, and thank you for recalling that vivid memory. Being present, and for the magic: two good reasons to garden indeed.

  16. Del says:

    I garden because in the evening my whole body aches after having worked all day in my garden. Don’t need any kind of pills. I shower, pray, and sleep like a gardner.

  17. margaret says:

    Welcome, Del. I love how you explain the way gardening fits right in with daily living, your spiritual practice…and your dreams. Thanks.

  18. margaret says:

    Welcome, Liz, and I hope you buy that winning Lottery ticket in time for next spring. Blessings to you for the special work you do, and I wish you those uncomplicated moments of respite, lots of them.

  19. Liz says:

    Thanks so much Margaret for your wonderful, recently discovered treasure of a web site and for these words from margarets friends and fans! I feel much less isolated and crazy to read similar tales of gardening obsession. I find much to identify with in the various responses to this question and others and have lamented being alone in the extremity of my compulsion to garden. The first thing I would do if I won the lottery is to buy a space to garden (rather like yours in your photos Margaret!) I also garden for reasons similar to those for loving my dog! For the uncomplicated,rewarding, unalloyed joy and pleasure. When my work of helping victims of violence feels overwheming, the act of tending growing things helps connect me with peaceful aspects of creation. For this respite and renewal I am always grateful. On this cold fall day (here in Nova Scotia anyway!)I am already dreading the coming of winter and the withdrawal from my garden. Already looking forward to spring while still enjoying the beauty of late fall. Thanks again for all the inspiration

  20. Anne says:

    I love, love, love this question. In fact, I’ve daydreamed about writing a book on this question. (Maybe there’s one out there…)

    and what wonderful answers! All of the above, for me, but also…

    it gives me an excuse to have short stubby fingernails…

    I adore sweet surprises and my garden always gives them to me….

    I like to catch up on gossip with the lizards….

    my husband loves to make fresh pesto…


  21. margaret says:

    Welcome, Anne. And what, dare I ask, do lizards gossip about? I didn’t even know they were vocal types. :) See you again soon.

  22. Anne says:

    well, they don’t exactly talk, but they do scratch out letters…

    :>>>/,,,XXXX = =

    translates to “The praying mantis ate all of the ladybugs that you put under the roses last night…”

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