I used to bristle at the question of why I garden, when the answer seemed so obvious. Why do you eat, sleep, breathe? Because you have to; doing these things means you’re alive. You don’t think about why—you just do. However, over the years as I’ve been reading the HPSO Quarterly, many respected gardeners have answered that question with thoughtfulness and creativity. It’s time to get over my insolence and dig a little deeper.
I come from a gardening family. Both my mother and father garden. Dad takes pride in his productive (and tasty) vegetable garden, and Mom has always had a stunning ornamental garden. Stepping back another generation, my maternal grandparents also gardened. My grandma’s plant palate was limited, but she grew a mean hosta and had the most beautiful purple clematis I’ve ever seen.
My grandpa was a vegetable gardener extraordinaire. Sugar snap peas, cucumbers that became the most delicious dill pickles, and enough zucchini for my grandma to bake up dozens of zucchini bread loaves that we froze and ate all winter. Oh, and don’t get me started about the rhubarb, which of course became strawberry rhubarb pie. Funny thing is, as a kid I honestly had no idea you could buy any of those vegetables in the grocery store: I thought my grandpa was magic.
This all is to say that gardening is in my blood—that’s the “you just do” part of the equation. But why do I love to garden? With apologies to those annoyed by alliteration, I think it comes down to curiosity, creativity, control, connection, and, above all, getting lost in “The Flow.”
Researching new plants, tracking them down, and watching them grow satisfiesa desire to learn and acquire knowledge—curiosity. Gardening is like having hundreds of experiments all running simultaneously. “When does the bark on the Arctostaphylos x ‘Austin Griffiths’ start to peel?” “Are the flowers on the hibiscus more numerous this year?” “Is that what Callistemon virdiflorous seed pods look like!?” Walking the garden daily, or nearly, is exhilarating.
Because I enjoy design, the garden is a natural for exploring planting combinations and coming up with creative ways to work in more plants (cramscape). From the initial layout of the garden, to matching a new plant to its perfect container, my garden provides numerous opportunities to be creative. Heck, even the waste it produces—in the form of prunings—can lead to an inspired vaseful of branches for the house.
I’m reminded of something I read while visiting the Amazon Spheres (three spherical conservatories at the headquarters campus of Amazon, in Seattle): “We created The Spheres to give Amazonians a chance to refresh and restore themselves. Imagine a work conversation happening near a waterfall or a flowering wall of orchids. Even short doses of nature have been proven to boost well-being. Immersed in greenery, we’re more relaxed and alert—we can think more creatively.”
Gardening doesn’t just give me a place to be creative, but it actually allows me to think more creatively in every aspect of my life.
Control, and the complete lack thereof, is the contradiction of gardening. As I design plantings, I decide what goes where and what the overall look and feel of the garden will be. However, as soon as I finish, I am no longer in control. Mother Nature takes over, and strange and wonderful (and sometimes unfortunate) things happen. As a gardener you learn to let go, until, of course, you decide to step back in and take control. Prune, remove, redesign, and then let go again.
The connection I feel when gardening is twofold. First is the connection to nature and my surroundings. Digging in the soil, weeding, spreading compost: these things calm me. It’s busy work—busy hands work—and many researchers believe that working with our hands connects us and engages our brain in a way that just makes us feel better. Garden work is “anticomputer.” When my hands spend an hour hitting buttons on the keyboard I tend to feel a little wound up, whereas an hour spent “working” in the garden relaxes me.
Every gardener knows the nature part of gardening is not just about the plants. A day spent in the garden means coming face to face with dozens of other creatures who call it home. They range from the welcome—like the hummingbirds, butterflies, worms and bees—to the not-so welcome—I’m looking at you, you cutworms, root weevils, and wasps.
The other connection gardening provides is to the community. Through associations like HPSO and the garden bloggers groups that I belong to, I feel like I’m part of a huge gardening family. There is a lot of joy in sharing your passion.
Finally, there is The Flow. Losing all sense of time and being fully absorbed in what I’m doing—that’s the very best part of gardening. How else would you want to spend a sunny—or slightly rainy—afternoon?
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Of course I didn't mention the most important thing, it seemed so obvious why did I need to? Because I love plants!!!
I'll end with a plug for joining the HPSO. For just $35 a year ($25 student, $40 individual plus one — two people at the same mailing address) you get access to:
- educational programs (big seminars, small intimate speaker programs)
- a book full of listings of local, private, gardens open to fellow members every weekend throughout the spring, summer and fall
- the quarterly magazine and weekly email newsletter
- an amazing horticultural lending library
- discounts at select local garden retailers
I know several members who don't live in the Portland area but enjoy the publications and visiting the open gardens when they come to down. Interested? More info here.
Weather Diary, July 16: Hi 98, Low 66/ Precip 0
All material © 2009-2018 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.