The Blog

Why I Garden

I garden because I'd rather be at the mercy of nature than at the mercy of nations. If I'm unable to eat what I want to, at least I know why.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

I garden because it's play disguised as work, because, as an adult, I can think of no other way to justify spending so much time outdoors. Perhaps I could take a job as a fire warden, but I'd have to move out West, and I'm afraid of heights.

I garden because it gives me an excuse to spend a great deal of time alone.

And because gardening allows me to avoid the gym.

It's one of the few things one gets better at as one gets older. There are no child prodigies in gardening.

I garden because there is something so heart breaking, so beautiful and ultimately ineffable about the half-light of evening. And about those final moments when a long day dies and the night is born.

Gardening is about the play of things - of light and form and growth and decline.

Gardening is an art - an art you can walk through. I'm at once a sculptor, a painter, a conductor! My orchestra? Colors, textures, shapes, forms, tastes and scents. Or maybe I'm a choreographer, and my sunflowers, onions, kiwis, cucumbers and raspberries leap, twirl, twist, kick, embrace and swoon in the maddest tango.

Like any performance, one can never be sure of the outcome. Gardening is for gamblers, risk-takers and experimenters, and I am all of those.

I garden because it's the ultimate magic trick. From my box of seeds, I conjure a small universe and my audience comes to know the earth through its flowers and vegetables - pole beans from Taiwan, Italy and France, tomatoes from Russia and Poland, okra from Israel, Africa, India and Kentucky.

I garden because I prefer the conversations of birds to those of humans and the songs of the wind to those of my iPod.

Like friendships, gardens are easy to start, but require effort to maintain. Sowing, watering, weeding, staking, tying, pruning, fertilizing, harvesting - a never-ending series of tasks, a meditation that goes on for months and months - a way to induce city people to connect with the earth, if only for an afternoon.

I garden because you cannot buy (or marry) the title of "Gardener." You either know the Latin names of your flowers or you don't. You've either memorized the "days to maturity" of your vegetables or you haven't. You either have well-manicured nails and hands without calluses, or you don't. Your harvest table either makes the produce section at Dean & Deluca look like the corner deli, or it doesn't. Gardening is not for poseurs.

I garden because I'd rather be at the mercy of nature than at the mercy of nations. If I'm unable to eat what I want to, at least I know why.

Sometimes I think about living on the Upper East Side, having a box at the Met and a car and driver to take me there. Sometimes I dream of having a closet full of Prada dresses or of living on the French Riviera.

I wouldn't, however, trade any of those privileges for my garden. If I could, I would sleep in my garden - under a sunflower wrapped in the vines of my sweet potatoes.

I garden because I need to let go and nothing lasts in a garden.

To garden one must embrace the ephemeral. Everything in a garden is forever emerging, maturing, yielding, fading and dying. A garden is nothing if not evanescent.

I garden because I am impatient. Gardening helps me learn to wait. I wait for the seeds to become seedlings, for the seedlings to grow into plants, for the plants to bear fruit, for the fruit to ripen, for the harvest to become food, for the food to give pleasure and nourishment to the people I love and to those whom I hope to convert to my way of living.

I garden because it gives an order to my life. I surrender to the rhythm of the seasons and during the growing season, to the rhythm of the day. But within that order there are constant surprises - the snake gourd's flower with its amazing tendrils or the tiny fawn asleep in the blueberry hedge.

And no two days are alike. Iris, peonies, chives and lettuce come and go in the blink of an eye. On Sunday, an emboldened doe appears at my doorstep. On Monday, the first melon appears. On Tuesday, the first dahlia blooms. All of a sudden, a battalion of daylilies commands attention in the garden's northeast corner - only to vanish just as quickly. And finally! Yes, finally! The tomatoes and peppers ripen into every color of the rainbow and beyond.

Week after week, month after month, season after season, the pageant continues. And in the midst of this endless procession of fleeting displays I carry on weeding, watering and harvesting until at last I have no choice but to sit down and rest!

And it's then and there, from the deep cool shade of my kiwi arbor that I glimpse something else in my garden, something more subtle but everlasting and reassuring. Something you just might call...


And that is really why I garden.

Popular in the Community