The Effects of Gardeners’ Hearts & Labors

04/09/2011 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Outdoor Living

J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, said: “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves”. Surely, he must have been a fellow-gardener because gardeners create spaces where peace and beauty reign. Their sanctuaries are not just for themselves but are spaces they gladly share with others.
The colors and textures we gardeners splash upon the ground are soaked up by all the birds, butterflies, and passersby in our neighborhoods. But more important is that you and I, gardeners, are the stewards of our small patches of earth, and are among the millions who are helping to heal a wounded planet, one garden at a time.

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When 60 people, of all ages, many of them first time gardeners in the area, attend one of my garden classes on how to garden locally I ask myself: “Why?” First, I find there is a curiosity among gardeners of all ages to trace the history of where our food originated, and to be good stewards of this earth entrusted to us. Secondly, there is renewed interest among younger families wanting to learn about locally growing all things edible. There is an undeniable calling from this next generation to be friendlier to our environment, and new gardeners’ strong inclination to organics is the reason my garden center is a source for purely organic fertilizers, as well as disease and bug controls.

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Most people pigeonhole work and play into separate ‘boxes’ of their lives. The hours of earning a living are in one compartment, other ‘boxes’ are for carting the kids to swim practice or dance class, weekday evenings are for watching episodes of television favorites, and weekends dedicated to long afternoon hikes or kayaking on Watson Lake are to be found in another compartment.

Gardening is difficult to fit into only one ‘box’. Pulling weeds and digging holes can hardly fit in the compartment for recreation, but gardening doesn’t fit neatly into the ‘work box’ either.

What term should be applied to a pursuit that takes so much out of us yet rewards us many more times over our investment? We lose track of worries, stress, and time when working in our yards. Getting out of the car after a long day with brain frazzled, body drained, we find that we can’t wait to lose ourselves tending tomatoes, transplanting zinnias, that new spicy oregano, or those newly introduced geraniums. Although at day’s end we may be left with sore muscles and more weeds to pull, we also find that our souls have been nourished and our spirits rejuvenated. To a gardener, in the hierarchy of all things important, gardening is very near the top.

One reason for its importance is the awe of gardening passed along to our children. It’s the reason I do so much with our local schools. Rachel Carson 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 his experiences, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” My grandparents shared with me the magic of their gardens. Together we planted radish and carrot seeds; they got as excited as I did when the seedlings poked out of the ground. We later shared the pleasure of eating what we had grown. In some ways gardening brings out in each of us the inner child and that level of wonderment experienced in childhood.

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Last week at the garden center I spoke with an experienced gardener who had just had a hip replaced. When I asked why she was so active in the garden so quickly after her surgery, she quickly responded, “I’m not letting this hold me back; I’ll be dead before I stop playing with the plants.” Hers are the heart and passion of a gardener.

Experienced gardeners may pull fewer weeds than years past, or find their neglected shrubbery swallowing large chunks of the landscape, but they walk through their gardens with a grace only a lifetime among the bees, butterflies, and flowers can endow.

Gardening is important because it teaches us the joy of nurturing and the rewarding responsibility of caring for a seedling depending on us for light, water, and life. Deep pockets aren’t essential to a gardener’s enjoyment, although sometimes even I am surprised at how much I can spend on a new garden. A couple of 4-inch pots of pansies and a tomato plant can deliver the same exhilaration as a gardener’s most expensive prized rose acquisition!

My dermatologist says “no more sun”. So gardening gives me an excuse to wear a silly hat that keeps the sun off my neck, and to hang out with other really cool gardeners to compare notes on our expensive new shears, colorful bushel basket, or stylin’ gloves.

Gardening is important because it can be part of the life cycle. When our gardening days are finally behind us perhaps some young couple will discover one of our long-neglected gardens. As they cut back the overgrown shrubbery they might encounter some fragrant treasure sowed so many years ago. That treasure may kindle in them something they pass along to their children, and so the cycle continues.

Until next week, I’ll see you at the garden center.