Why I Garden

– Posted in: Featured, Flowers on the Brain, Meditations

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.

Why is a couch-potato bookworm willing to work physically hard for a bunch of plants?

Why is a couch-potato bookworm willing to work physically hard for a bunch of plants?

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.

I draw on my artistic side, which I didn't think I had, to design or revise a flower border

I draw on my artistic side, which I didn't think I had, to design or revise a flower border

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.

Debra Prinzing, Mary Ann Newcomer, Dee Nash, Carol Michel, Cindy Tournier. Photo courtesy Anna Looper

Debra Prinzing, Mary Ann Newcomer, Dee Nash, Carol Michel, Cindy Tournier. Photo courtesy Anna Looper

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.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Lonnie Miller, Mystical Mansion January 16, 2010, 2:26 pm


That is a very inspirational story, and much about how I feel about gardening! I am sure you are a true inspiration to many! Keep up the good work!


Kochsgarden.com January 15, 2010, 4:23 am

Gardening is a state of mind! It sets me free from the daily buzz.

Crisanna December 10, 2009, 9:54 am

I only recently found that I could grow something and it would live! My house plants all thrive and I have moved up to bulbs – forcing them to be specific and so – in my spare time – I read what others have to say about their own experiences with growing plants and here – I find this – the most touching article about what could have been a story about my own relationship to this wonderful experience. The line – “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” springs up inside my soul” – is one that I can relate to as well and wonder too at just how this all happened. Today, I tend to my bulbs that are beautifully displayed in all my forcing vases – the colors are amazing and my next step – how to plant them in the ground and do this all over again! I have truly gone from academic to gardener – I love it!! A+ for the article too!

commonweeder December 8, 2009, 1:25 pm

I’m an indoor bookworm (and baker) too. When I am not in the garden or out with family and friends. One of the things I love about gardening, is the wonderful people I have met and friends I have made. I am really jealous of the spring fling 2009 pix. But Buffalo is within my reach! I’ve got another Giveaway over at my blog to give my friends another chance at a book, Right Rose Right Place and more CowPots.
.-= commonweeder´s last blog ..The Landscape and Art =-.

VW December 1, 2009, 5:14 pm

When I was younger, I didn’t think I had much of an artistic side. Like you, gardening has been a fulfilling way to draw it out of me. Isn’t it great!
.-= VW´s last blog ..Not Your Typical Poinsettias =-.

Cool Garden Things November 30, 2009, 6:23 pm

You know it’s funny, but what you say is so true…I remember I would sit and weed my parents garden for hours as a child…weird now that I think about it…but I enjoyed it even then. They never even asked me to do it! Ha ha!
GartenGrl at Planning Plants to Plant

Paul November 30, 2009, 10:04 am

In my youth I could not tell the difference between a tree and a shrub. The last thing I wanted to do was “garden”. My how time can change things. I now love to plant, water, fertlize, see things grow, and do my best to find useful information on gardening. I also love to give all the gardening knowledge I have acquired over the years and pass it on to others.

Joan Bailey November 30, 2009, 6:30 am

I’d like to think I garden (and attempt to farm) because it’s in my blood. Or because I was raised in a landscape of farms – rolling fields of hay, corn, horses, wheat, and cows – that I carry with me wherever I go. Or because I think of my mother and grandmothers and friends (here and gone) who’ve gardened and farmed before me. I think, too, it’s because I never know what to expect in the garden or what I will find. Yes, the plants are there, but who besides me is eating them? Or what volunteer plant will be cheerfully waving leaves when I next look? (I had a nice volunteer crop of potatoes one year that I will never forget.) I don’t know why I garden and farm, except that when I can’t for some reason it nearly breaks my heart.

Neil Moran November 26, 2009, 9:18 am

Hi Kathy, your essay called to mind growing up in lower Michigan tending my father’s garden after he planted it but was often too tired after a day’s work in a factory to come home and weed it. I cared for it as if it were a stray puppy dog and I was only maybe 8 or 9 at the time. I went on to grow great tasting vegetables that my mother canned and froze and served fresh with hamburgers on the grill.

Meanwhile, I noticed, but didn’t fully appreciate at the time, the common lilac, barberry, climbing rose, spirea and other plants in our yard. I eventually developed an interest that turned into a passion for all plants, including those found deep in the forests here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (I’m talking about spring beauty, cotton grass and pitcher plants). I marvel at the towering trees in the woods: white pine, hemlock and white spruce.

I’ve been fortunate to make my living growing native and nonnative plants in a not-for- profit greenhouse and nursery and donating them to nonprofit agencies. Thanks for a great essay and helping me conjure up some pleasant memories (and trying to answer that elusive question: why do I garden?).

Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence November 26, 2009, 8:54 am

Happy Thanksgiving Kathy!
.-= Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence´s last blog ..The Book of Six© Six Things to be Thankful For =-.

tiny home plans November 26, 2009, 3:12 am

I garden because for me it is like a therapy that makes me feel good whenever I fell stressed.

greg draiss November 25, 2009, 8:58 pm

I garden because it is in my blood. My ancestry is German agricultural nobility dating back, as far as we have found thus far, to the 13th century.
Gardening continued when ancestors arrived in PA. in the 1600’s. My grandfather was President Roosevelt’s gardener, my father a gardener, myself a gardener and my 8 year old son an infectious gardener.
I make my living gardening, writing about gardening, broadcasting on radio about gardening and photographing gardens. I have never done anything else.

It is said life began in a garden……I know my family did.
Happy Thanksgiving
Greg Draiss
The Real Dirt on Gardening

Jean November 25, 2009, 10:28 am

Kathy, This really resonated for me. Like you, I’ve never been good at creating things artistically, and I’ve found my creative side in gardening (which allows me to express a strong sense of color and form that was always there). Thanks for sharing these thoughts. -Jean

Gardening November 25, 2009, 9:37 am

You have got a nice garden out there. I think a connection with plants means a connection with the nature itself.

Ramble on Rose November 24, 2009, 10:17 pm

Very well said! I think connecting with plants is instinctual, but not everyone will listen inside themselves to notice the connection. Those of us who do are the fortunate ones.
.-= Ramble on Rose´s last blog ..The Thankful Gardener =-.

Anna/Flowergardengirl November 24, 2009, 8:27 pm

I feel like it’s always been a part of me too. And we most certainly share the same friends and interest. My post will be similar to yours.
.-= Anna/Flowergardengirl´s last blog ..Operation Christmas Child 2009, The Grand Finale =-.

Robin Ripley November 24, 2009, 8:10 pm

“Gardening has stretched me mentally, emotionally, and physically…”

And all the people said…Amen. This is just lovely, Kathy
.-= Robin Ripley´s last blog ..A Deposit into the Seed Vault =-.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter November 24, 2009, 5:52 pm

It’s a beautiful mystery, that incredible pull plants have over us. Maybe it’s that deep seated human need to create art that drives you, as the garden is your medium.
.-= Mr. McGregor’s Daughter´s last blog ..Adventures in Welding =-.