Toronto Star column – published March 30, 2013
“My garden is my escape, not so much from anything in particular as to everything else.” Marty Ross, The Roots of My Obsession
My seed order arrived the other day in the mail from P.E.I., marking a benchmark in my year. Make that a ‘bench press’. The exercise of the gardening experience begins in earnest. Time to stop dreaming. This year’s garden is hatching as we speak.
We are blessed in Canada to have many different seed sources available to us. Dozens, maybe more than a hundred, companies will deliver seeds to your door. My favourite ‘mail order’ seed company is Veseys Seeds. They have most of what I want and I discovered this year that I can order online seamlessly. They have a great website and fool-proof ordering process. www.veseys.com
Between Veseys and the Ontario Seed rack at my local retailer I have all of the sustenance needed to feed my gardening obsession.
I have been reading a great book lately about our obsession with gardening. I don’t mean to suggest that everyone who reads my column is obsessed with gardening, but you might be shocked at how many of us are. And if you are not one of them, it is instructive to know a few things about your friends and acquaintances that are.
‘The Roots of My Obsession’ is a written compilation by 30 gardening big wigs from around the world, mostly the U.S. and Britain, who wax eloquently about how they became gardeners and why they carry on. Each of them was asked to answer the question, “Why do you garden?” The book offers 30 distinctly different answers.
There are some wonderful stories that help to illuminate my own experience in the garden. Take Thomas Christopher, for instance, who said, “Sometimes the experience [of gardening] takes the form of an instant so beautiful and rich as to move me, for a moment, outside of time.” I am reminded of a single moment last summer when I was cutting down the weeds in our back yard with my favourite hoe when, in the stillness of a Sunday morning, a gentle hum met my ear. To the left, not a meter from my shoulder hovered a male hummingbird, looking at me like I had no place there.
I stood breathless while I took a snap shot in my mind and filed it in my hard drive. There to be retrieved on a day like today: a reminder of why I bother to weed at all.
Some people see the activity of gardening as merely physical, which explains why not everyone is bitten by the gardening bug when they experience their first garden success. I live in hope that these people will come to realise that it is not the stretching and wracking of one’s body while in the garden that provides the ultimate benefit but the journey to nowhere in particular. Like the health club member who fights for the parking spot nearest the door, one hopes that they will one day get the point of it all and park as far away as possible. Or walk there.
What is the Value?
What is the value of the gardening experience? “The value of our patches [of garden] – the real value, I mean, not some price-per-square-foot dreamed up by a wonky real estate agent – doesn’t zoom up and down because of events out of our control. Its pleasures don’t diminish because the stock market is dropping like lead. The plant for which you paid $5 yesterday is still worth that today [in fact it is surely worth three times that – the cheapness of plants is among life’s great mysteries].” So says Anna Pavord, a Brit with an impressive biography that includes being the author of a book called The Tulip. It has long been regarded the authoritative tome on the subject.
Ms. Pavord posits that a day of fiddling with jobs in the garden that are really not all that important can pay dividends. I assume that she means ‘fiddling’ without the assistance of cell phones or anything that employs the use of earbuds.
I have long been a fan of escaping to the yard, garage, or tool shed in favour of tackling some serious ‘odd jobs’, especially when the weather favours it. The added benefit of gardening compared to, say, polishing the golf clubs, is that plants grow and fulfill a greater purpose in the fullness of time while the golf clubs just get dirty [if you use them] or tarnished [if you don’t].
Claire Sawyers, the director of the Scott Arboretum in Pennsylvania, reflects that the garden claimed her on account of the fact that she does not watch TV. For Claire, the garden fills a void that was never there. She has been gardening for so long she can’t remember when she wasn’t a gardener. For her, the more natural question is not, “Why do you garden?” but rather “Why doesn’t everyone garden?”
My answer, based on my own powers of observation, is that the world is full of many diversions and gardening is just one of them. We gardeners cannot blame the non-gardeners for taking up sailing or fishing or TV watching instead. But we can feel a bit sorry for them, I will give her that.
Solves my Shopping Problem
Amy Stewart, another American, explains that she gardens, “To find a place to put the plants I’ve bought.” She explains, “It is the second phase to shopping”. Now I have worked in retail gardening circles all of my life. I can name the top 5 independent retail garden centres in the country and I know each of the owners by name. All of them would describe Amy as their dream customer.
However even I can pick up on the tongue-in-cheek here. Clearly there is compunction to dig holes and fill them with plants, from wherever they were acquired. Amy adds, “What else would you do with a plant after you bought it, besides put it in the ground?” Well, I would answer, you could always give it to someone. The gift of a plant, whether you grew it yourself or you bought it, always has value.
There are many very quotable characters in this book. Here is a small sample:
“I don’t garden of my own free will. I am held hostage.” Tovah Martin
“A garden is made up of a thousand small interventions, but each small act is a defence [defiance even] against a world without anchor or safe harbours.” Anna Povard
“I am a doubtful gardener with a good memory. What I mean to say is that my memory is good within the parameters of my passion.” Daniel Hinkley
And that is a good place to stop. Should you happen to belong to the club of non-gardeners, the last quote will help you understand those of us who are obsessed with it. Consider the word ‘passion’ and remember that, while every gardener has it, every one of us has our own story.
The Roots of My Obesssion
Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden.
Timber Press $14.95
ISBN # 978 1 60469 271 6
Question of the Week
Q/ What is the best fertilizer to use on my lawn this spring? When is the best time to apply the fertilizer?
A/ I only use CIL Golfgreen on my lawn. Apply lawn fertilizer once the snow has melted. Wait until the ground is dry enough to walk on without compacting the soil.