Not a Gardener? I’m Honored

Perhaps some one or two of you readers of this blog might be just that — readers, not gardeners. An occasional reader has admitted this to me. Although I feel honored to be read by any non-gardener, herein is my effort to get humus under the fingernails of you gardening equivalents of “Monday night quarterbacks.” 

I reckon that now, when plants are lush and have already offered or are hinting at future offerings of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, is the easiest time of year to spur your enthusiasm. Also, it’s still not too late to start a garden. I started my first garden -– in Wisconsin -– on August 1st and reaped tomatoes, beans, and other vegetables!Garden entrance

I could begin by going on and on about the favorable economics of gardening, wowing you with statistics about how much cheaper it is to grow broccoli, peaches, and tomatoes than it is to purchase these items at the grocer’s or the florist. Research back in 2014 found that, on average, a home vegetable garden yields $832 worth of fruits and vegetables beyond the cost of $285 (both figures in today’s dollars) worth of materials and supplies. Saving seed, substituting home-made compost for some or all fertilizer needs, and drip irrigation are among ways to lower costs of gardening. Good planning and good soil management could increase those returns.

So especially with these days of inflated prices, economics can be a very convincing argument for gardening, surely if you plan to eat a lot of vegetables or want flowers spilling out all over the place indoors and out — not such a bad idea at that, either of them. (Probably with flowers; I didn’t come across any figures for growing versus buying flowers.)

For the Best . . .

Quality is where the rift between buying and growing widens, in favor of growing. It’s impossible to buy (except pick-your-own) peas, lettuce, peaches, tomatoes, and many other vegetables and fruits that come even close to being as good-tasting as those you can grow. The peas picked here at the farmden today were perfectly ripe and required about six seconds of shipping (with little bruising) from plant to mouth. In a couple of days, I’ll be picking gooseberries: a dozen different varieties, none of which could I buy off the grocer’s shelf.

Early summer fruits

Early summer fruits

When it comes to cut flowers, I’ll admit to being on shakier ground promoting home-grown over bought. Just look at a bunch of commercial roses. Each flower is perfection, with not a scar from pests.

But could such perfection be turned around and looked upon as a shortcoming? Aren’t “real” flowers attacked by bugs and diseases, and do “real” flowers all open perfectly? As long as imperfections are not carried too far, I find them acceptable, perhaps even desirable. Commercial cut flowers are available out of season, but this shortcoming of home grown could be remedied with a home greenhouse.

Vase of homegrown roses

Vase of homegrown roses

A Great Coach and Teacher

How about next comparing the physical and emotional rewards of digging the soil, bending to weed, and pitching forkfuls of manure with jogging in place on a treadmill or doing pushups? Just as Thoreau’s wood heated him twice, first when he cut it and then when he burned it, so the garden provides health twice. Even before you reap your first harvest of healthful fruits, vegetables, and herbs, you benefit from the physical exercise associated with cultivating plants.Hauling mulch

Exercise experts have even quantified some of the health benefits of gardening. A study from the University of Minnesota, for example, reported that individuals who spent 45 minutes per day gardening had one-third fewer heart attacks than those who were sedentary. Another study found that physical activity, particularly gardening, lowered risk of dementia by 36 percent.

Even breathing fresh air when gardening has its benefits. Well, not just air; the soil bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae was found to alleviate depression by activating seratonin releasing neurons in the brain.

But really, who needs studies to generally know all this? 

And what of the less tangible rewards of gardening? A hundred years ago, Charles Dudley Warner wrote in My Summer in a Garden how gardening provides “exercise which soothes the spirit and develops the deltoid muscles.”

Deb rakes mown hay.

Rei-King by Deb as Sammy looks on.

Rudyard Kipling evidently considered gardening a general cure-all when he wrote

The cure for this ill is not to sit still
Or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and shovel also, 
And dig till you gently perspire.

Finally, the garden is a great teacher. Close observation of plants and their environment can teach chemistry, botany, entomology, and pathology. Gregor Mendel formulated the basic laws of genetics in his monastery garden. The garden teaches more than just science, though. Gardening also teaches “patience and philosophy and the higher virtues — hope deferred, and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation, and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning” (again quoting from My Summer in a Garden).

Like any good teacher, the garden rewards. Such rewards may be deferred, but they are sure to come, doled out piecemeal after just days (when you plant radishes), after weeks (when you plant marigolds), or after years (when you plant a maple tree).

Hakurei turnips 38 days after planting

Hakurei turnips 38 days after planting

Chestnut, 19 years after planting

Chestnut, 19 years after planting

5 replies
  1. Margie Smith
    Margie Smith says:

    Thank you for writing such a great article!
    My mom gardened in the city of Pittsburgh with mainly 5 gallon buckets and grew the most beautiful tomatoes ever. She has been my inspiration.

  2. Kathleen Brandt
    Kathleen Brandt says:

    been a gardener a long time (I’m 70). Now I need to find someone to help me put a fence up… Ahhh aging

  3. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    Those of us who must garden, garden. Does not matter whether or not it is logical.
    Thanks for this well written essay. I am passing it on to my brothers who garden with more of an emphasis on profit.
    And wabi-sabi about the roses. So much more charming.


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