Des Kennedy describes gardeners this way in his funny book Crazy About Gardening: “In my opinion, most gardeners are nuts. Some will deny it, of course, some will object. But the evidence is overwhelmingly against them. Just ask a person who doesn’t garden, but lives with someone that does. Better yet, spend a few minutes at a flower show, a garden-club meeting, or a horticultural society soiree. These events are attended by more peculiar-looking characters than a jesters’ convention in Las Vegas. The costumes are unconventional at best, the conversations quirky. The whimsical walk arm-in-arm with the eccentric, the two of them perhaps pausing to study a cluster of dead twigs in a vase. Idiosyncrasy wafts through the room like cheap perfume… Theirs is an all-consuming passion, an infatuation that precludes all else. A place where the mind ‘goes to seed.’”
Gardeners come in all shapes, sizes and sexes, race and colours, range in age from the youngest of children to the creakiest of centenarians and can be found planting and picking pretty well all over the planet. They have vastly varied levels of abilities, skills, knowledge and education as well as centuries of cultural and philosophical backgrounds, which as we well know, can sometimes lead to very polarized points of view about the methods and treatment of soils, plants and water.
Obviously not all gardeners of the world are created equal either. They toil in the soil for basic survival or a livelihood; for pleasure, physical exercise, food, fun, fresh air, vases of fragrant flowers or to follow in their family’s footsteps; for the desire to create beautiful landscapes; for study, contemplation, critter habitat, healing, social connections or simply for the spiritual practice of consciously connecting with the earth. Some gardeners or farmers become highly educated in all aspects of it, while others prefer to learn about certain things in particular, such as greenhouse gardening, hybridizing, planting pots or hanging baskets, seed starting/saving, etc. The lucky ones are gifted with a natural ‘green thumb’ who can seemingly grow anything with little effort, while others – despite all their efforts – can never seem to achieve the same results.
In another words, no two gardeners will ever be alike and they all started somewhere, somehow.
Take me for example. When I was a kid in Vancouver, my mom got me to plant stuff in her garden that would grow fast like radishes so I wouldn’t get bored with it, plus I loved our old neighbour’s amazingly scented sweet pea patch, but I’m not sure this ‘planted a seed’ in me to become a gardener. Then in my late 20’s, life landed me on a small acreage where I grew my first over-sized veggie garden by just sticking seeds in the rows and keeping it watered. A few more plots over the years were pulled off the same way wherever I happened to move to, until I at last took the time to take an organic gardening course at around 50. Although more enlightened after that, this knowledge to me did not hold a candle to the ‘real’ gardeners I knew or read about, which were far more versed on plants, seeds, harvesting, pruning, etc. than I was or would ever likely be.
My composting and mulching practices are much better now for sure, but by nature I’m the wing-it type rather than the studious, so I still plant things willy-nilly around the yard, usually start the veggies too late, rarely research anything or ask for advice and I’ve yet to learn things like saving and starting my own seeds and all the other things I really ‘should’ know by now. I could probably manage to name a few plants in English, but I couldn’t give you one plant name in Latin if my life depended on it. Unfortunately in high school, I learned the words ‘organic’ and ‘orga -’ (well, you fill in the rest) at the same time, as well as humus and hummus, so I still have to think really hard not get them mixed up in conversation. So you see, I see myself as one those people that garden a bit, rather than being one of those genuine gardeners, because I don’t know a whole lot about anything really, let alone practice it. And here I am writing a garden column!
My point is, most of us are likely never going to be in the same league with the super-educated and experienced gardeners, but like me, we can still manage to grow some food and flowers because thankfully the plants know what to do with a little bit of care and attention. Anyone can be a gardener and goodness knows this poor old planet of ours could sure use a lot more of us, whether we’re just winging it or not!