Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What would you do if you couldn’t garden?

Ok I’m being a bit dramatic here, I realize that. But not being able to get out and clean up the winter damage in the garden, just poke around and see what’s what, or stop in my neighborhood nursery and see what’s available (slim pickings I’m sure, but I still love to look, even in the dead of winter!) has me thinking just how much plants, and gardening, preoccupy my mind, and hands.The last thing I did in the garden was wrap up the tender things on Saturday December 5th before the predicted (and very real) arctic weather hit, and before my injury. That was over 5 weeks ago! I’ve never gone 5 weeks without working in the garden, hell I’ve probably never even gone more than a week! Our mild(ish) Portland winters allow for occasional futzing about, even in December and January.In my opinion one of the greatest rewards of gardening is constant discovery. There is ALWAYS something new in the garden, not always good, but always new. Things are moving forward whether you’re a part of it or not. I don’t have kids but I imagine raising children is similar. Everyday a discovery as their little personalities form and their minds learn the ways of the world. If your not there to see it you might just miss it. As I write things are moving forward in the danger garden without me.
I am starting to come to terms with the fact the NW Flower and Garden Show in Seattle in February isn’t in the cards for me this year. Big picture, not a big deal, life goes on right? Still it is a huge disappointment. I was really looking forward to it, a once a year event! Last year was the first time I’d made the pilgrimage since moving away from Seattle in 1998, and it was a great experience. I wasn’t blogging last year, but this year I would be and I planned to take you all along. Plus, the vendors! Oh lala! The marketplace features several plant vendors that I don’t regularly have access to here in Portland. I was planning to go a little crazy. I haven’t yet accepted that the Portland Yard Garden and Patio Show is out. It’s a week later and hundreds of miles closer. I am determined and you’ll be going along. So what am I doing in the mean time, since I am not gardening? Well obviously I’m garden blogging. I’m spending lots of time on other gardening blogs; discovering new ones and enjoying a little voyeuristic gardening. January is definitely plant and seed catalogue season so I am doing a bit of dreaming. Not so much spending, as I am usually an in-person shopper, but this may be the year that changes. I’ve already ordered Castor Bean seeds and green Amaranth seeds from Baker Creek, what a beautiful catalogue they've put together!
And of course there are garden books to be read and reread. I’ve got a couple of new ones on the way; they should be arriving any day.
But something is missing. There is no dirt under my finger nails. Now before you go thinking I’m having a big pity party for myself I am keenly aware that my situation is temporary (that’s the plan at least!). Eventually I will heal and put all this behind me, it will be only a bad memory. But the what if’s have my mind wandering. What would I do if I couldn’t garden? What would you do?

This question got me thinking of someone I met during my Master Gardener training. She works with disabled people, and seniors in nursing homes, to get them outside and get their hands in the soil. For the seniors it is a matter of taking them back to an important part of their past. Sure they are no longer be tending vegetable gardens that feed their families, or planting the perfect perennial border, but by growing tomatoes in containers and sweet peas in a window box they are connecting with the earth, and the sense of discovery and the familiar feelings of gardening are a boon for their mental health.

Also through the Master Gardner program, I briefly volunteered at Doernbecher Children's Hospital. These are critically ill children who spend their days in a very adult world of life and death. Running around in the yard playing like a kid isn’t something they are able to do. When working with the volunteer MG’s they get to do something all kids (well, most kids) naturally love to do…get dirty. It was wonderful to watch those few precious moments when they forgot about the machines, and the tubes, and the doctors and were simply enjoying themselves.

So coming back around to my question. What would I do if I couldn’t garden, at least in the way that I “currently” do? I guess I would find a new way to garden. I can’t imagine life without it. The lawn would get even smaller and maybe disappear. I love to mow but the husband, not so much. There would be more containers and raised beds, areas easier to get to. Fewer plants that need frequent tending and bye-bye to the marginally hardy plants in the ground, having to baby them wouldn’t be on the agenda.
There are so many different ways to garden, where and how you garden can, and probably will change with time, but you should never have to be without it. Right?

(a note on the pictures, no...my garden isn't currently looking this alive. It's winter! These are some oldies I've resurrected, hopefully mostly new ones that you haven't seen before...)


  1. You've raised a thoughtful question and one my hub and I have dealt with in the past. One of the main reasons we don't currently live in a 12th floor condo at the Benson is because I just couldn't see myself gardening on a 10x7 balcony there. I feel so lucky our 1956 ranch came on the market 3 years ago when we needed to move out of our up-down 1917 Foursquare: for now, I revel in all my garden space. Of course the question will come up again in the future, probably with different answers.

    As for integrating gardening with other activities, that's brilliant! I love your example of the MG who works with elderly folks. I need to look for those kinds of opportunities as I transition into retirement. I already have lots of plans (including a MG certificate) but a combination like that could just prove to be the best of both worlds for the longer term.

  2. What was the question again? What would I do if I couldn't garden? And what was the answer? I would...garden. Some way, some how, you would find a new path to gardening...and that is why you are my HERO.

  3. Even when I rented I kept a lot of house plants, mostly very low care kinds, ones that could take abuse. I imagine if I could not garden, there would be more animals in the house.

    BTW, I saw my first copy of Baker Seed catalog over the holidays and am lovin' it. My brother has put an order in for us and I will be growing Roselle Hibiscus this summer as well as Red Malibar Spinach. The diversity pictured in the catalog is amazing.

  4. I hope you can get back to your garden soon but meanwhile I am enjoying your posts.

  5. I loved seeing all your beautiful garden pics from warmer months. It must be torture indeed not to be getting dirt under your nails for so long. When do they expect to take the cast off, BTW?

  6. Here's wishing you a quick recovery and return to the garden! It's funny, I had a visitor from Portland in my garden a couple weekends ago. She mentioned the weather getting down to 14 degrees, so that clued me in to the fact that your great garden photos must have been from an earlier time.

    As far as different ways to garden, I remember life in an apartment many years ago. I'd turned the floor of my closet into a place to grow orchids under artificial lights. I'm sure the landlord thought I was growing pot in there.

  7. So sorry you will miss the F & G show here, I know you would have had a great take on it. If I go and there's anything you want me to scout, please say the word! I discovered gardening kind of late, and then had a kid not too long afterward, which really cut into my gardening time. So, getting out there when I can and trying to not stress about all the things that don't get done on time (or ever) has been hard but necessary. When life changes, you adapt. It's good to know that you would always keep your hands in the soil in some way, so deep is your love for the plant world! Hope your healing is going well, and great that you are reconnecting with old books and getting some cool new ones!

  8. Your garden looks beautiful. We have rain coming tonight....I can't imagine life without gardening.....

  9. I think about that issue a lot. People get sick, they have mobility issues, or worse yet I think, vision issues. If I couldn't get out there and do the work, I'd still want to be able to appreciate beautiful gardens. I seem to be able to busy myself with plenty of other things. I don't think I've been out in the garden in weeks either, for totally different reasons. At some point though, when the garden is calling, and work is competing for my time, it really starts to get me down. That's one reason I hope to some day have a job and schedule that allows me to have more time to enjoy life, less time in the office. Fingers crossed, the wheels are in motion for that.
    I'm sending good thoughts your way for a speedy recovery that allows you to make it to the Portland Yard, Garden, Patio Show, and this thing is behind you before you know it.

  10. I wonder about this sometimes too... I spent one miserable year living in a tiny apartment with no sunny windows, and swore never again. I was agitated, antsy, and cranky. So I'm with you: Chop off my legs, and I'd still find a way to garden.

  11. Beautiful photos... of a beautiful garden!
    Take care,

  12. Jane, ha! Us too....Andrew would be so happy with condo living, me not so much. Your MG timing is better than mine. When I was in the program there was no Multnomah Cnty chapter, I had to drive to Beaverton every week and it made it much harder to get my volunteer hours in.

    ricki, really? I've never been anyone's hero before! (well that I know of)

    Les, interesting. I hadn't really thought of animals as a substitute for gardening but I can definitely get it. I think Megan would probably agree. This was my first Baker Seed catalogue too, some of the photography and vegetables were amazing!

    Thanks Nicole!

    Pam, the cast is off (scary procedure) and I am in a storm-trooper boot right now getting around on crutches. I still can't put any weight on it for another 2 weeks. I do start physical therapy next week. Ouch.

    James, I was thinking about my apartment days too. I had little window sill gardens going. But that seems like such a distance memory now that I've been able to transition to a full fledged garden. Thank you for the recovery wishes!

    Thank you Karen! It's very kind of you to offer, I will think on that. I can't even imagine what my gardening time would be like if I had a child (nonexistent?). My non-gardening brother (the other one gardens) has 3 kids and I often joke with him that he is growing things, kids not plants!

    Susie, I wish I could share our rains with you!

    Megan, less work, more time...I love that! Yes the vision issue is definitely one I've thought about. I just can't imagine loosing that. So horrid to think about. Thank you for the wishes! I'm sure you all are probably ready for me to stop complaining too huh? :)

    Greensparrow, no! I hope it doesn't come to that, keep your legs! I've been lucky and my apt living always involved fabulous windows. In fact I often took spaces to small as long as the windows were fabulous. I would be cranky with what you describe too!

    Thank you Alice!

  13. There are always botanical gardens happy to get help from landless gardeners, or even landed gardeners.



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