A friend asked recently what it is about gardening that I love so much, and with such intensity. What is so compelling? What do I get out of it?
When we moved into our house, it was surrounded by nothing but mowed grass. A vast expanse of green blades, all the same height, all the same color. No flowers. No birds. No butterflies. It was uninteresting. When I’d go out on our back deck, there was nothing to watch except the clouds. Though the grass itself was living, the landscape didn’t feel alive.
What I love with intensity is life. Life is miraculous to me. I grew two human beings in my body who are now teenagers. Fifteen years ago they didn’t exist. They were nothing. Now, they walk and run and talk and laugh, they think, they create, they have ideas. They’re baking cakes and learning Spanish and riding bikes and swimming 3 miles a day. That’s amazing! It blows my mind.
What I love with intensity is beauty. When I look at a flower — the arrangement of petals, the colors, the shape of the flower to attract the right pollinators — I could get lost in it. When I look at a garden, or when I work in the garden, I do get lost in it. Digging a hole for a plant unearths a worm, which makes me think of the subterranean world, and all the underground activity happening to create the soil for my flowers. Filling in the hole, and knowing the soil is loose now, makes me think about the robin that will soon be along to take advantage of that loose earth to find the worm. And then I’ll think about how funny robins are, hopping around in the garden, with worms wiggling in their beaks. The next thing I know I’ve been in the garden digging holes for 4 hours.
That’s beautiful to me. The beauty of the connectedness of all life. That’s not the beauty I was originally talking about, though. I was really just talking about superficial beauty, of different flower colors, petal shapes, leaf shapes, leaf colors. The beauty of the curved contours of the flower bed, of the Chartreuse green of spring, of the red of the male cardinal, the yellow of the goldfinch, the deep blue of the indigo bunting, the black and white check of the woodpecker.
Which brings me to what is most compelling to me about gardening, and about why I continue to replace lawn with flower beds: I love with intensity is how diverse life is. An expanse of bright green, freshly mowed grass bores me if that’s the only thing there. An expanse of bright green, freshly mowed grass is lovely when it provides a clean backdrop for pink roses, purple Salvia, magenta butterfly bush, yellow sunflowers.
Those plants, when they’re growing in the spring, provide daily absorption for me: how much did they grow? How many leaves do they have? Are there any flower buds yet? I walk the garden every day inspecting for all of those things. When they start flowering, the insects come: fat fuzzy bumblebees; yellow, orange, white, and blue butterflies; honeybees and moths; caterpillars and ladybugs, aphids and aphid-eaters. And the hummingbirds! I’ve already seen a hummingbird this year. All those insects attract birds, and when the flowers go to seed, even more birds come. My favorites are the goldfinches that sit atop the dried seed heads of purple coneflowers in late summer. The long stems nod under the goldfinches weight, but remain upright.
What I get out of my garden is that it invites diversity to come back. It creates a space where I can continually be struck by the wonder and connectedness of life on earth. Not only did life once not exist at all on this planet, but it didn’t exist, and then it did, and then it turned into millions of species who are dependent on one another for survival.
I didn’t think about that or experience it on a daily basis when our lawn was just lawn. Now, as I sit and write this, I look at the pansies in our flower boxes and wonder at the arrangement of the petals, and what advantage that might create for the continued survival of that species. I think about the curly leaves of the purple kale and marvel at their water-funneling capability. I hear the calls of multiple bird species. I see bees buzzing. I eagerly await the warmth of the day, when the butterflies start arriving.
This is my entry for the Core prompt.