Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Do I Garden?


The Last Frontier Gardener gets lucky: Alopecurus pratensis 'Variegatus' with Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'

A former high school teacher of mine once asked a similar question to our sophmore honors English class.  His actual question was more terse: "Why?"  After a few blank looks most people started scratching something, anything down on paper.  I filled a page and a half with answers to any and every question I could think of (the Tindall effect! nature versus nurture! igneous intrusive! Jane Austen!) before the time was up.  Turns out the answer he wanted was "because" or "why not?"  Those could be my answers to the gardening question as well if I wanted to be blunt or sassy.  I'll try a little harder than that to convey my answer to a question that can be inexplicable or elusive.

It's a little embarrassing to admit that my first reason for gardening is control.  I am a bit of a control freak about some things.  Having a yard to tinker in to create a certain effect is very rewarding.  And probably just as expensive and exhausting as therapy.  When I moved into my current abode, I inherited one tree, one shrub, and turfgrass. I called it "the fish bowl" because it was so exposed.  There was no privacy, no beauty, and little functionality.  After almost ten years of blood, sweat, and tears, I have made this space into something private, dynamic, functional, and beautiful (to me at least).  Not to say mother nature doesn't laugh at me and my control tendencies.  Weeds, weather, and wild animals all play a part, whether I want them to or not.



Nassella tenuissima lights up a container planting in autumn

The second reason must be that I've always loved the outdoors.  As children growing up in Alaska, mom shooed the six of us outside with great regularity.  "Go play outside."  The cruelty of that woman, forcing us to go use our imaginations in the fresh air!  We roamed the neighborhood and its wild edges having grand adventures.  I still like being outside and having (garden) adventures even though mom is not here to make me.

Now don't laugh, but my third reason is I am a sensualist.  I greatly enjoy having all my senses engaged in my gardening space.  The smell of sweet peas and stock, the movement of ornamental grasses swaying in the breeze, the sound of birdsong, the touch of a furry lamb's ear leaf, and the taste of my homegrown herbs, fruits, and veggies are all sensations I dream of in winter and revel in when it's summer.


Bergenia spp. and Picea abies 'Ohlendorffii'

I could fill pages and pages just like in high school English class, but I will conclude with a fourth and final reason I garden: roses don't spontaneously bloom beneath my feet.  It may be a "labor of love", but labor it is.  I've got to put in some effort to make a garden!

P.S. This post is in response to a call for a 500 or less word essay by gardens of the wild wild west on "why I garden."  I discovered the contest last night and stayed up late thinking/writing about it because it is a good question (and because the contest closes on December 21st).  If you'd like to share your reason(s) for gardening, please leave a comment below.

52 comments:

Bangchik said...

Yea, we garden for all kind of reasons. But one has to love playing with dirt and get dirty from time to time. But of course to see the first shoot, the first bloom and the first fruit is so sweet..... a very nice essay.

~bangchik

Christine B. said...

@Bangchik
Seeing the new things growing in spring is about as close to magic as it gets for me. As for getting hands dirty, mine are frightful for about six months of the year. I guess that's one reason to celebrate winter: clean hands.

CB

debgarden said...

I garden because of the feel of of a cool breeze, the smell of a sweet flower, the touch of a leaf's texture, the sound of songbirds, the taste of good vegetables, and the sight of colorful plants blending together to make a living tapestry. I'm with you - I am a sensualist!

azplantlady said...

I think there are so many rewards in gardening...when a rose blooms after you have carefully tended it....when a plant does something it is not supposed to and reminds that nature is not always predictable. Thank you for sharing your reasons for loving gardening.

Carol said...

Lovely essay! The sensual aspects of gardening are one of favorites too! Good Luck! Carol

Laura Gardens in Desert said...

Great post, I appreciate your leaving me a comment, and I have really enjoyed your blog and garden. I come from Missouri prior to living in the desert, so I have a fondness for ice and deep snow, only now it's just vicariously.

Hocking Hills Gardener said...

Yes, it is so satisfying to create something to enjoy. When you work in the garden all of the world is left behind and you do use your senses more. I get such peace when working with the garden even through the sweat, blisters, thorns and splinters ;-)
Yes these awful parents who shoved us out into the fresh air and exercise were just terrible ;-)
Merry Christmas to you and yours.

RainGardener said...

@Christine B.
I have to agree seeing new things growing in spring is about as close to magic as it gets for me too. I absolutely love spring with everything peeking out after a long boring cold winter.

Karen said...

I totally relate to all of your reasons and could never have said it so well. Hope you win the contest! Love that shot of the Mexican feather grass, that plant is becoming a big fav of mine after showing up unannounced in my garden last year!

LeSan said...

LOL you sound like you have been roaming around in my head. I relate to your gardening reasons right down the line. Oh, and that mother of yours must have been a real beast. "Go outside" --just horrible. heheheh

I would like to wish you and your family a very happy holiday. I hope that you have a warm and wonderful time surrounded by friends and loved ones.

Oh, and we get to start counting down to sunshine again, right? So that's a good thing!

Christine B. said...

@debgarden
Hooray, another sensualist! (Why do I feel a bit naughty saying that?)

CB

Christine B. said...

@azplantlady
"When a plant does something it's not supposed to" is another great reason to garden: surprise!

CB

Christine B. said...

@Carol
Thanks for the lucky wishes. Nice to know there are more sensualists out there.

CB

Christine B. said...

@Laura Gardens in Desert
Hello there desert gardener!

I have really enjoyed snooping around other people's blogs since I started one of my own. I had no idea there were so many great ones out there. Keep us posted on the hot country and I'll try to give you your fill of vicarious snow love. I'm going cross country skiing today: wish me luck!

CB

Christine B. said...

@Hocking Hills Gardener
Hello there, HHG!

Nice to know mine wasn't the only "cruel" mom out there as far as sending us out to play. I agree with you: it is amazingly satisfying to create something to enjoy. I especially love it when the kids are having a great time in the garden. Merry Christmas!

CB

Christine B. said...

@RainGardener
Hello RG,
Can't wait for my spring magic here...only three or four more months!

CB

Christine B. said...

@Karen
Karen,

Thanks for the essay shout out. I am quite jealous Nassella just showed up at your place. I have to hunt it down for mine, hardly anyone carries it up here and it hasn't proven hardy over winter either. Bummer for me, as it's one of my all time favorites!

Christine B. said...

@LeSan
Hello LeSan,

Yes, mother always said she went to "mean mom school" when we were kids and griping at her about stuff. I've told my kids I attended the same school and graduated with honors. Thanks for the holiday wishes, hope you and your family and friends enjoy the holidays as well!

CB

Di said...

Hello Christine,

Thanks so much for coming by and dropping off the name of Hordeum jubatum. We have lots of ornamental grasses in our garden but I am not familiar with this one.

I love your point of view: peaking thru the foxtail and seeing G 'Johnson's Blue', likely my favorite geranium. Diana

kris at Blithewold said...

Why? Jane Austen, obviously! I'm glad that my first visit to your garden/blog was this Why post. But it never would have occurred to me to laugh at you for being a sensualist. Is there a gardener out there who doesn't do it at least partly for the sensory experience of it all? (I guess I should head over and read all of the entries to find out) Good luck! And happy solstice - thanks for visiting Blithewold!

Christine B. said...

@Di
Diana,

Foxtail barley seeds around up here like the dickens, but it is so pretty. Still trying to decide if I should take a risk and grow it in a container. Johnson's Blue is one of my favorites, too. If someone could invent a J.B. geranium that doesn't flop, I think it might be a perfect plant!

CB

Christine B. said...

@kris at Blithewold
No need to laugh at me for being a sensualist, I laugh at myself. I think just saying the word makes me smile. Happy holidays to you, including the all important (for gardeners, at least) winter solstice. Thanks for visiting!

CB

gardener said...

Hi Christine
Thanks for connecting. I like that you are using grasses in containers as well as in your garden and your Bergenia that are now probably tucked in for the winter are beautiful. Just working my way through your posts. Munching moose! A truly unique challenge that is not often included in gardening books. Looking forward to chatting again. Stay warm.
Kim

leavesnbloom said...

For me its "my place" I can decide which plants I want and where I want to grow them - I have total control - its my personal space when I want to escape from the housework and noisy teenagers. Just me, my ipod and wildlife - and I so enjoy working with the soil - I don't like wearing the gloves. It is a real sensory experience kinda like an free aromatherapy session. The only thing I can't control is the weather!

Christine B. said...

@gardener
Hi Kim,

Thanks for visiting and snooping through the old posts. I have a small collection of different Bergenias, they are so cheerful in the spring. Unfortunately, the moose love them so I must douse them in repellant every month they are not covered in snow.

Christine

fairegarden said...

Hi Christine, you are so full of energy and enthusiasm, gardening in a harsh, to me anyway, climate. Playing outdoors as a child is the very best way to learn to love the earth, nature and getting our hands dirty! I enjoyed getting to know you through this essay and look forward to learning more. :-)
Frances

Christine B. said...

@fairegarden
If I can convey energy in the midst of a headcold, I guess I'm doing OK;) Thanks for stopping by!

CB

Christine B. said...

@leavesnbloom
I knew I'd forget some important reasons for gardening: leaving the housework for awhile has got to be up there for me too. You're lucky, I'm still trying to convince santa that I need that iphone....

CB

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

It's always interesting to hear about why others garden. I remember being sent out to play all the time too when I was younger and that our garden became the place we did a lot of make believe. I find my oldest daughter doing the same thing in ours. I loved getting some glimpses into your garden!

Christine B. said...

@Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
Hello Catherine,

My kids love to plan what veggies they want for the vegetable patch. I have also given them a container on the balcony of their playhouse to tend. I choose plants that can handle feast or famine as far as watering because they are still young and forget sometimes. It saddens me that so many kids never experience a garden, whether it's because they don't have one or because they are plugged into some device. It was a high point in my childhood, that's for sure!

CB

Rebecca @ In The Garden said...

Wonderful post, love the 'got lucky' caption of your photo, I also feel that way when something turns out remarkably well. As to why I garden? I enjoy the outdoors immensely, but to be honest, am not a big fan of actual wilderness. Since becoming a stay at home mom, I have found gardening to be a great personal outlet and family activity. I am primarily a scientist, but also very creative. Gardening allows me to combine both. I enjoy memorizing 'facts' (latin names, zones, sun/water preferances, height, bloom time etc..), but I love playing with colour and texture. I also find gardening to be good for all of the senses, and love the feel of a lambs ear. For that reason, I haven't been able to bring myself to introduce anything non tactile (such as roses) as of yet. And as bangchik mentioned, a love of playing in the dirt. I always garden bare handed, since I love the feel of the earth, roots & plants. :) Rebecca

Christine B. said...

@Rebecca @ In The Garden
Rebecca,

I love the brutal honesty about wilderness. I, too, enjoy my creature comforts like indoor plumbing and hot water. I once spent a summer on the "north slope" of Alaska working as an environmental intern and the mosquitos up there make it hard for anyone to admit being a wilderness lover! They were like an omnipresent cloud around my face...horrible. On the upside, I did get to take a dip in the Arctic Ocean and see a polar bear in the wild, how many people get to do that?
I have been slowly getting rid of my roses, only keeping the ones that are particularly fragrant, tough, and that develop hips in the autumn. Oh, and I'll keep that one at the corner that keeps them from taking a shortcut through the garden. The rugosas can make wickedly efficient boundaries for us here in AK!

CB

Lynda said...

It is funny how we have our different reasons for gardening. Enjoyed reading yours. Thanks for great post!

Christine B. said...

@Lynda
It takes all kinds, even in the garden. Thanks for visiting.

Christine

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Hi! I read this post earlier today, and got sidetracked. I don't even remember how I got here. And, I am generally too late for these contests. I have done a post on why I garden before, but I don't remember how many words it was. I like your reasons. They are similar to some of mine. I'm with you on the weather, critters, and such being part of the garden whether we like it or not.

Merry Christmas!

Christine B. said...

Hello Sue,

That happens to me all the time when I read garden blogs...I'll go from one to the next from comments, blog rolls, etc. and I don't remember how I even started. Those critters and the weather make us bend or break as far as the garden goes, don't they?

Merry Christmas to you, too.

CB

Barbara said...

Christine, I love the theme of your post and could put my name to some of your reasons for gardening as well. Wanting to be in control is one of them. I've realized one reason I like being in my garden is because I'm the boss there! But of course there's the sensuality of roses and flowering shrubs, the sounds of nature, and the satisfaction that comes after hard physical labor. Thanks for visiting my blog, too, and I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Di said...

Christine, back to say have a blessed Christmas!

Christine B. said...

@Barbara
Yes, being the boss is fun isn't it, especially because plants don't sass back!

CB

Christine B. said...

@Di
Hi Di,

Thanks for the Christmas wishes, right back at you!

CB

guild-rez said...

Hello,
I found your comment in one of the German blogs.
I am planting more and more ornamental grasses in our garden.
There are many good books about grasses available now.
"Grasses" by freelance gardening writer Nancy J. Ondra is a beautiful and practical guide to raising ornamental grasses in one's garden.
Highly recommend her book.
Alaska - we sailed to Alaska, but the weather wasn't good enough to go hiking or looking at the wonderful fungi and lichens.
Hope to come back one day. Wish you a wonderful Christmas und a Happy New Year.
- Cheers from Toronto, Canada,
Gisela

sabbaar said...

nice blog .. best Merry christmas wishes and Happy holidays

texasdaisey said...

Those are all great reasons to garden. Thank you for stopping by my blog. You must have laughed at our snow. I do a bit too. I grew up in the Texas Panhandle where it snows a lot and there is lots of ice and rarely does everything get shut down unless the drifts close us in. In this part of Texas they are just not used to a bit of snow and definitely if it is blowing. Your blog is so beautiful. I have always wanted to visit Alaska. Now I get to see it thru your eyes.
Debbie

Kirsten said...

I had to laugh when you talked about 'control' in the garden - I like to fool myself into thinking I have some kind of control, too! Sure, choosing what to pull out, what to plant, what to tie up, etc., gives me some measure of control but, I think, ultimately, why I garden is to learn my place in the world. When I garden - and, since my garden is a food garden, when I cook and eat - I find my niche, the place where I belong.

Christine B. said...

@guild-rez
Hello Gisela,
Glad you stopped by. Sorry about that tempermental Alaskan weather on your trip. It does get rainy sometimes! Loved the Grasses book by Ondra. It was one of the books that really got me interested in those plants. I'm afraid I'm quite an ornamental grass addict at this point.

CB

Christine B. said...

@sabbaar
Thanks for the well wishes, right back at you!

CB

Christine B. said...

@texasdaisey
Debbie,

I would never laugh at the snow (or lack of it) in another climate. I am too busy shovelling to be laughing! I'll be checking in on Texas' snow at your blog though, so keep us posted.

CB

Christine B. said...

@Kirsten
You should have seen how proud I was when I cooked up my five, wow count 'em five, onions that I grew last summer. It seems a bit silly that five tiny onions could be such a source of satisfaction and pride, but they were. My veggie garden is tiny but we do enjoy growing and cooking our own food. The control part is mostly illusion though I suppose....

CB

Rosey Pollen said...

A creative outlet, I love fresh veggies, I am a control freak too!
Rosey

Christine B. said...

@Rosey Pollen
That's another reason I garden, too: fresh veggies. I only wish I was better at it! Thanks Rosie.

CB

Red Studio said...

Love the post and hope you win. A recent article I read included time outside (and physical labor) as a vehicle for happiness. I agree, euphoria is gardening with your hands in the dirt. Finding a beautiful flower to plant in the perfect container...even better!

Christine B. said...

@Red Studio
Euphoria in the garden, great title for a post. The hunt for great container plants doesn't begin for me for another, oh, 4 to 5 months. I don't quite know how I can stand the wait....

CB

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