By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
This week’s column is intraspective, philosophical and downright soulful. The poet side of this gardener is released in a reflection back at why I garden, and who took interest in sharing the passion that has lasted a lifetime. It’s from the heart, but no garden advice follows.
Most people pigeonhole work and play into separate ‘boxes’ of their lives. Eight-to-five in the cubicle is one compartment; weekday evenings watching sitcoms, carting the kids to soccer practice or ballet class, and weekends of golf, a long afternoon hike, or kayaking on Watson Lake are in another ‘box’. Anything that allows me to unplug from life’s noise is a welcome distraction.
Gardening is difficult to fit into only one box. Pulling weeds and digging holes can hardly be called recreation, but gardening doesn’t fit neatly into the ‘work box’ either.
Gardening is classified as a hobby. However, the hobby label seems pitifully inadequate for this ages-old pastime. Gardening can be a passion, a calling, often more than just an avocation. What term should be applied to a pursuit that takes so much out of you yet gives back so much? It’s getting out of the car after a long day with your brain frazzled, body drained, and finding that you can’t wait to lose yourself in dragging hoses, tending tomatoes, and transplanting zinnias and geraniums. Although at day’s end you’re left with sore muscles and more weeds to pull, you also find that your soul has been nourished, your spirit rejuvenated, your well being re-centered. To a gardener, in the hierarchy of all things important, gardening is very near the top.
One reason for its importance is that our awe of gardening can be passed along to the youngsters in our lives. A grandmotherly gardener put it clearly: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” My grandparents shared with me the magic of their vegetable garden. Together we planted radish and carrot seeds and they got as excited as I did when the seedlings came poking up out of the ground. We later shared the pleasure of eating what we had grown.
My father-in-law, Harold Watters, started his garden center back in 1962, and some of those early customers are still shopping with us. Because of these long-time gardeners I can testify that gardening is important because it keeps a person young. I don’t know of any scientific data on the subject, but the many elder gardeners I’ve known exhibit a certain nimbleness of step, a bit less stiffness in knee and hip than their non-gardening peers. Elder gardeners may pull fewer weeds today than in years past and find their shrubbery has swallowed large chunks of their yards, but they walk through their gardens with a grace only a lifetime among the bees, butterflies, and flowers can endow.
Gardening is important because, for my money, it offers a less painful way of staying young than some Beverly Hills spa methods. However, although it may be more pleasurable, it can be nearly as costly. An avid gardener can spend up to $89 on a single Bartzella Itoh Peony or a huge blooming Sherwood Gladiator Daylily that repeats its bloom through the season. However, deep pockets aren’t essential to a gardener’s enjoyment. A couple of 4-inch pots of pansies can deliver the same exhilaration as a gardener’s most expensive acquisition!
Gardening teaches humility. But gardening also is important because it teaches the joy of nurturing, that delightful responsibility of caring for a seedling that depends on you for light, water, and life.
Gardening gives you an excuse to wear a silly hat that keeps the sun off your neck and to hang out with other really cool gardeners who covet your silly hat, decorative gloves, and expensive shears. OK, so this can hardly be considered an important aspect of gardening, but a bit of lightheartedness is always welcome in our lives.
Gardening is important because it can be part of the life cycle. When our gardening days finally are behind us perhaps some young people will discover one of our long-neglected gardens. As they are cutting back the overgrown shrubbery they might encounter some fragrant treasure sowed so many years ago. That treasure may kindle in them something they will pass along to their children; and so the cycle is perpetuated.
In a world where a battered economy, conflict, and strife seem to surround us, gardeners create spaces where peace and beauty reign. In a time of discontent, gardeners set an example of selflessness. Fortunately, as J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, said: “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves”. He must have been a gardener.
The colors and textures you, the gardener, splash upon the ground are soaked up by all the birds, butterflies, neighbors, and finally passed down to the next generation of gardener. But more important is that you, a gardener, are the steward of a small patch of earth, and that you are one among the millions who are helping to heal a wounded and scarred planet, one garden at a time.
Until next week, inspiration abounds here at Watters Garden Center.