Why do we garden?

>> Friday, September 14, 2007

It seems a very simple, innocuous question, and at first blush, it has several answers. But I’m not so sure the answers are all that obvious or simple.

Certainly we humans have a desire to be surrounded by natural beauty. At least the more sophisticated of us do. Is sophistication required to want natural beauty surrounding us? I don’t know, I’ll leave that question for the experts on human behavior. I do know that natural beauty is all the more satisfying by the simple fact that we had a hand in creating it ourselves.

One of the main reasons I garden is to attract wildlife. I have always loved music and have an extensive collection, from classical to pop to hard rock to jazz and blues, but nothing is as satisfying as listening to birds chirping just outside my window.

I cannot imagine a world without wildlife. They certainly don’t need us to ensure their survival, but the point has been reached in our co-existence that they do depend on us giving them a better quality of life since we have taken so much of their habitat away. They can be just as healthy if not healthier if we humans did not interfere with them but since we do and have interfered then we need to care for them.

I spent my formative years in a small ‘bedroom community’ south of Indianapolis, Indiana. The house I grew up in was on the north side of town abutting a corn field that stretched for as far as the eye could see and was used to seeing all manner of wildlife right in our backyard. Years later, I went back to that town to see what it looked like, that house is now just south of the center of town and that endless corn field no longer exists. It was sad but inevitable that all of that rich soil that used to provide food now supports driveways, streets, lawns and houses. I did spot a few gardens in some back yards and hopefully they are producing well.

As a youth I was a member of the local 4H club and the FFA (Future Farmers of America). What made me think of this I don’t know. I am sure that my experience in both of these organizations helped formulate my interest in nature even though I don’t remember a lot about either one except I once created a project poster advocating the care of backyard wildlife. I drew pictures of birds, raccoons, skunks, snakes, etc, to show the diversity that surrounded us. So I can truthfully say that I have always had an interest in looking after their welfare. That interest continues today. I have had, at the very least, a hummingbird feeder or two wherever I lived even if I did not have the space for a garden. For those of you who are curious, 4H stands for Head, Heart, Hands and Health and I was pleased to learn via the internet that they are still in existence.

I’m not gardening out of tradition because there isn’t any real gardening tradition in my family. One of my grandfathers gardened, always a vegetable garden, but he had six children to feed so perhaps it was out of necessity. But then he continued after they left home, so I guess that’s proof enough to me that he did it because he enjoyed it and that’s as close to a tradition as I can claim. One of my grandmothers gardened occasionally, never vegetables and nothing more elaborate than a few shrubs and the occasional bulbs. I doubt that anyone in my family is going to carry on the garden I am creating after I have gone. At least no one has yet stepped up to show any interest.

So, why do I garden?

Harvest is of course a reason for the vegetables, herbs and fruits I grow. We eat some of the apples, pears, peaches, cherries and plums from our backyard and share with neighbors but a lot of it goes to the birds and then the trash can. We give some of the apples to the horses that we pass on our evening walks. Its really cool to have them wander over to the fence when they see us coming down the street. The few herbs I have grown so far are just for looks, I am certainly not talented or knowledgeable enough to actually use any of the herbs. I just enjoy their fragrance and form. I would like to know how to use some herbs from my own garden but I just don’t think I actually would. It’s not that I don’t believe it when people say that fresh herbs add so much to cooking, I do believe it, it’s just that I am not a gourmet cook and we eat fairly simple meals. I don’t know, maybe it’s a confidence thing.

As I look back over what I have written I noticed that one central theme is satisfaction. So, I suppose, satisfaction is my driving force for gardening. The satisfaction of having done a good enough job that most plants have actually survived my limited talents. Satisfaction that the plants I have chosen are beautiful when combined with others I have chosen. Satisfaction that I did not ‘copy’ someone else’s garden plan and it all comes together so well anyway. Satisfaction that I have provided what little wildlife we have here with a place to eat and hang out for awhile. I have not yet found any nests but that will come with time.

Whether we garden for the simple, natural beauty we create, the attraction/protection of wildlife, out of tradition, or for the harvest we produce, one thing is for certain, it all leads to the satisfaction of knowing that we had a hand in it. And that is, obviously, a very good thing.


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