Why do I garden? Why does an artist paint? Why does a pianist spend days practicing for an hour long concert? The truth is, I don’t know why I garden. I don’t know why I have an affinity for plants, a need to see them thrive, a hungering for their beauty.
As a child, I was content to lie on my bed, reading, while the other children played outside. Now, I work up a sweat, digging, weeding, raking the pulled weeds up and hauling them to the compost pile. For the plants. For the vision I can see in my mind’s eye.
I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, and every past attempt at handwork, drawing, or a craft ended with me tossing the mess in the trash. I just knew I wasn’t creative, until I learned to really look at my plants, their shapes, their colors, the way they moved in the breeze. Before I knew it, I had opinions on which plants looked good together, and how the path had to curve, and why I needed, needed, I say, to plant 150 small tulip bulbs where before there had been none.
Gardening has stretched me mentally, emotionally, and physically, enriching my life in ways I never could have imagined. I have learned to be in the present while thinking of the future and remembering the past. While analyzing a garden bed, hoping to improve its composition, I need to keep in mind the plants that have finished blooming as well as the plants that have yet to bloom. To ensure that garden bed complements its surroundings, I draw upon the artistic side I didn’t think I had, considering form, texture, line, color, light and shadow, negative and positive space.
In pursuit of a more intimate knowledge of the plants in my care, I have learned botany, ecology, geography and history. I have also learned to use electronic spreadsheets, power tools, and blogging software, the better to shop for plants, prune plants, and write about plants.
Gardening has given me friends from all over the continent and just down the street. I can lapse into botanical Latin and their eyes don’t glaze over. If I whine about excessive rain or prolonged drought, they sympathize. They troubleshoot my garden’s design flaws, research my garden’s pest problems, and encourage me in my current plant obsessions-as well as sharing their own. I save seed, take cuttings, and dig divisions and bulbs, for the express purpose of sharing with my gardening friends. To meet these friends in person I had to summon up my courage and learn to travel, which I had previously considered too expensive and too difficult.
I can tell you all these ways gardening has challenged, improved, and inspired me, but I still can’t tell you why I garden. I can’t tell you where “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” springs up inside my soul. Only that it does.
This essay was inspired by Mary Ann Newcomer’s essay contest. Deadline for the contest is December 21, 2009, so you still have time to enter.