The benefits of planting and tending plots of earth are abundant and available to everyone. Medical research shows that simply looking at a garden is good for your health. Watching butterflies and seeing colorful flowers lowers blood pressure. Fragrances stimulate us, as do colors–some are exciting, others calming. The psychological importance of connecting with nature, brought to us in gardens, also cannot be ignored. In the days after September 11, 2001, New York City’s public gardens reported higher than usual attendance. People were drawn to quiet places of beauty where they could be with other souls. In a time of destruction, they found comfort in reminders of nature’s power to regenerate–in plants to grow.
Gardening is my passion. If I could indulge myself in it for every waking hour for the rest of my life, it would not be enough time to learn all I want to know or grow all the plants I dream about. Sometimes I feel a little guilty when I spend time playing in the soil, rather than attending to all the myriad things screaming for my attention. For one thing, if I’m out in the garden, I’m not getting a paycheck. But when I have such doubts, I remind myself that this pursuit–at once art and science and, when practiced with care, conservation–is worthy of a lifetime of work.
You easily know the difference between day-to-day life, and really living. Think about “having a garden” and gardening. Like the best parts of cooking, the process of making a garden is often more enriching than the product, and the results are arguably even more pleasing since they are never finished, and may last your lifetime or longer. For many of us, this synergy between garden and gardener–the attitudes and methods with which we choose to practice horticulture and nurture living things–is the goal in itself.
The more we garden, the more we learn. We learn by visiting gardens and nurseries; from mail-order catalogues, picture books, encyclopedias, garden magazines, on line and here, in this website. With eyes wide open, we learn from art, history, travel, science–from anything that excites our curiosity. Everything that happens in our gardens, no matter how brutal or benign, teaches some lesson or another, and our gardens are transformed by this knowledge. We build our expertise with bricks of experience cemented with the mortar of wisdom, and becoming better gardeners if we accept observation as the teacher.
Working in a living medium, our artistic endeavors are subject to nature’s whim, even to disaster and destruction. I try not to underestimate nature’s energy: it is the power of the garden and the center of us all. As a living work of art, a garden is never static. But I am not disappointed by the idea that my work is, in some ways, like a sand castle on the beach. My garden is always moving and changing, in tune with the world around it, and I get to both witness this endless mutability and grow along with it. This process, this evolution, not only reminds me that I am alive. It is life.