Why we garden

Sunday, 08 September 2013

Belgian hybrid of Clivia miniata is providing enjoyment in my garden in September

Exactly what makes us want to garden is something that I have pondered on many times over the past few months - particularly since I have been barred from doing much in the garden whilst I wait for my new hip to settle in. The craving to go outside and get my hands into the soil is very strong - what is the source of this craving, I ask myself? Part of it must derive from the sheer aesthetic pleasures that plants and gardens offer us. The beautiful forms and colour of flowers and leaves, and the exquisite fragrances and touchable textures of many plants provides sensory enjoyment that enhances life. Some people have theorised that we actually have an innate attraction to nature - the so-called 'biophilia hypothesis' popularised by EO Wilson in a book published in 1984. He suggested that human beings have an inbuilt deep affiliation with nature (including plants, weather and animals) that is the product of biological evolution.

Some of what gardening provides are physical benefits that make us feel good. I'd much rather get my exercise from the exertions of gardening than in the boredom of an indoor gym, and research shows that gardening is indeed a fantastic way to exercise, with all that bending, lifting, walking and pushing of barrows. Whilst we need to be very aware of sun-protection measures during extended periods of gardening, we do effortlessly get our daily dose of vitamin D whilst doing the rounds of the garden to check how things are growing, as I do each morning.

Seedlings bring excitement and hope to a gardener

Gardening also provides a psychological escape from the stresses and strains of daily life, where our minds can focus on the progress of seedlings, the beauty of a newly opened flower, baby leaves appearing on a bare stem - these happenings can distract and soothe a frenetic mind. The miraculous transformations that occur daily in nature - the germination and growth of a tiny seed into a beautiful flower or fruit, a cutting taking root and growing into a whole new plant, the decomposition of grass clippings and weeds to form compost to enrich our soil - are balm to the soul of anyone with a lot of difficult problems. Researchers have found that there is actually a bacteria in soil, called Mycobacterium vaccae, that when inhaled whilst digging in the garden, gives gardeners a natural high by triggering levels of serotonin in the brain, elevating mood and decreasing anxiety. How often have I enjoyed smelling a handful of soil, without exactly realising why!

Gardening can also be a great way to find time to be on one's own and enjoy solitude amid a busy life: 'I really must pull up those weeds' is code for 'I need some time away from everyone' in my mind! But gardening also offers social benefits: the opportunity to meet other gardeners at garden clubs, community gardens and other garden-related events, and to enjoy the company of like-minded souls, exchange cuttings and develop friendships with people whom we otherwise may never have met.

Gladiolus tristis

The plants we obtain through swaps with friends and relatives can become a living tapestry of memories of special people and times in our lives, a point made in Kathryn's description of her garden in our Garden Ramble feature. My own garden contains a host of plants given to me over the past 30 years. I have flowers from the gardens of both my grandmothers, reminding me of them every time I see those plants. Right now, I have buds on Gladiolus tristis, an unusual bulb with fragrant, greenish trumpets, from a clump planted by my grandmother in her country garden more than 70 years ago. I feel a poignant and tangible connection with people from my life every time I stop to look at one of their plants in my garden.

Gardening also offers a chance to nurture living things, to see them flourish and grow, which is intrinsically satisfying. Growing one's own food is an especially rewarding aspect of gardening. Entwined with this is the ability of gardening to provide hope for the future, as we plan new garden beds, plant a tree sapling, sow a packet of seeds or take a cutting. There is always something to look forward to in gardening - and even if things don't go quite according to plan, there is always next year!

Drifts of bulbs in the farm garden, planted by my grandmother 70 years ago

Going out to do some gardening always allows us to see some results from our efforts - not always the case in other spheres in life. Just to be able to weed a small patch in the garden or prune a few shrubs can give a sense of achievement on a day when there is no headway on other issues in our lives. Gardening also shows the legacy of time. A tiny stick planted twenty years ago becomes a sturdy tree that will last for decades. A packet of bulbs can multiply over the years to become a huge drift.

Finally, gardening offers endless opportunities to learn about plants, gardens and gardening (thus keeping our brains ticking over!), and a wealth of possibilities for interesting outings to gain inspiration from other people's gardens and to seek out new plants in nurseries and plant fairs.

Who wouldn't be a gardener?

Reader Comments

  • By doreen 2148 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    Oh your comments are sooooo true. I love my garden and really could not imagine a life where I were denied access to my patch of dirt. Life would be very barren indeed, even though as the years go by the work gets more difficult. Thank you Doreen - I know what it is like to find it harder as time goes on but I want to keep going as much as I can! Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    so pleased to see the photo of the tristis - well done! Did you go to Centennial Park for the garden show? so hot there on Thursday - hope it takes off and is back every year. I didn"t get to the show unfortunately - like you, I hope it becomes an annual event. Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    I think this is one of your best blogs Deirdre. It"s a topic not touched on often. I think it"s interesting that some gardeners come besotted quite late in life. The famous Margery Fish springs to mind. Apparently she only became interested in gardening late in life to enjoy only 20 Springs. Even so she was so influential through her books on cottage gardening. I wouldn"t have a life without a garden. Yes many people do come to it later in life - I loved those Margery Fish books especially when I first started gardening and I enjoy re-reading them now. Deirdre

  • By Jan 2582 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    A weekend of hard physical labour in the garden has led to my husband and I both waking up a bit sore and sorry this morning. It did absolutely run through my mind that I"d rather know the effort went into the garden instead of some gym! There are so many moreish quantities to gardening!!! I agree with all of yours - thanks for summing it up so well. Thanks, Jan - I really look forward to being able to do physical labour again in the garden - so satisfying even when exhausting. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2605 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Monday, 09 September 2013

    So true, although I had no idea I was inhaling feel good bacteria! My garden was so important to me in my recovery after very gruelling treatment for cancer. Just looking at it while I was so sick and then the glorious day when I could walk around it and the even more glorious day when I was able to do something in it kept me going. You will be back in yours too soon. Thanks, Anne - you have inspired me. I did so much enjoy my first walk in the garden when I returned home from the rehab centre. It was so comforting to be back in my garden and to see what had been going on whilst I was away. Deirdre

  • By Ambra 2010 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    I started gardening about six years ago when I"d visit my mother"s place and look at the sad state of her front and back yard. She"s not a gardener and I could no longer bear to see the sad geraniums choked by weeds staring at me. I live in an apartment without so much as a balcony so this once per week therapy has been a wonderful thing. That sounds a wonderful thing to do, Ambra. I hope she is enjoying the results of your efforts! Deirdre

  • By Peter 2008 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    A well written feature Deirdre and highlights how important it is to "connect to the mains" in gardens that is the life source where we all come, otherwise life is meaningless and so much of what makes being alive is ignored.... Every best wish for a successful transition into a life with new hips, not to mention easier gardening :) I meant to include in the blog how important it is to be connected to the rhythms and seasons of the natural world so thanks for reminding me of that aspect, Peter. Thanks for your kind wishes too. Deirdre

  • By Maureen 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    PURELY AND SIMPLY - a fantastic and inspirational blog Deirdre. Many thanks for the encouragement it gives us all - and I wish you a trouble free convalescence as you strain on the leash to get back into your beloved garden. Maureen Thanks so much for your kind thoughts, Maureen! Deirdre

  • By Clare 3123 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 09 September 2013

    Wonderful blog Deirdre and an interesting comment by Peta about only getting interested in gardening later in life. Why is this so? I grew up with a beautiful garden created by my parents and they could never understand why I was not at all interested. It wasn"t until I was living in my first house that the urge to garden came upon me very quickly and I"ve never looked back. Maybe it"s an extension of wanting the outside to look good as well as the inside of our habitat? I was like you in that I really wasn"t interested in gardening till I had my own home though I loved my parents" garden. I thought they were crazy to spend all that time in the garden! Now I can understand why! Deirdre

  • By Bob 5223 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 09 September 2013

    No wonder we feel this way when in the garden. God placed us in the most wonderful garden ever and so it shall be again. Look around at the never ending array of plants,flowers,fragrances, colours, textures,soils, animals, insects (the list goes on) how can we not be amazed. All working together, yes even those pesky snails,to create a world so rich. Keep your gold, give me a garden, then I am rich. And I am, a farmer, gardener and nurseryman and with a wife as keen as me...Thank you Lord Thanks for your wonderful enthusiasm, Bob! Deirdre

  • By Lyn 2565 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    Have realised just how much I missed my garden after spending 5 weeks in Qld recently housesitting for a friend. As much as I enjoyed my time away, I was itching to get back to some "real" gardening. Thanks for the reminder about "The Secret Garden" we went last time you mentioned it in your blog and were just in awe of this gorgeous place, in amazing settings and serving such a wonderful purpose for the community who utilise it. Good luck with your recovery. I can understand exactly what you mean about missing your garden whilst being away! So glad you liked the Secret Garden - it is such a worthy cause and they do have some great plants! Deirdre

  • By Lois 3216 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 09 September 2013

    I think gardening is in my blood. My grandmother and mother were keen gardeners and no visit was complete without a walk around the garden and I do the same with my daughters and they enjoy gardening too but I"m not sure about the next generation although my youngest grandson aged 7 is showing interest .Jusy hope I can keep going for a long time. Yes, all my ancestors were keen gardeners too. Great that your grandson is showing an interest. I always used to walk around my parents" garden every time I visited once I was a gardener. Deirdre

  • By lillian 3951 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 09 September 2013

    I strongly suspect that your ideas about how to write this wonderful article fell into place when you were out.......! Thank you Diedre and agreed - one of your best. I have been walking around the garden a lot and this topic has been brewing in my mind for a few weeks! Deirdre

  • By Pam 3216 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 09 September 2013

    Deirdre I was also thinking that this has to be one of your best blogs - you have hit on what we all have in coming - strong feelings about our gardens. My husband has had the same hip replaced twice very successfully. I couldn"t manage without his help in the garden - building rock walls, high pruning, mulching - you name it, he does it. Best wishes for your recovery and thanks for your wonderful website. How wonderful that your husband has made such a good recovery - he sounds a gem in the garden! Thanks for your kind thoughts. Deirdre

  • By Lynne 2479 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 09 September 2013

    I relate to all you have said in this blog Deirdre. My garden is my sanctuary and the immense joy it gives not only me, but my family and friends is priceless. The hard work is well worth it and soon forgotten at day"s end when the sun in setting and the gin and tonic hits the spot whilst gazing out over the soft shadows of the garden.

  • By Peta 6253 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 09 September 2013

    Your reasoning as to why we garden is absolutely to the point. I enjoy my seasonal garden, which now in spring, is replete with camellias, fruit tree blossom and many others. Unfortunately there appears to be a push by councils and some government agencies in SW WA to limit gardeners" choices as to what they can grow on the grounds of saving water or reducing weed potential. "Grow native" is their catch cry regardless of the suitability of the many beautiful garden plants that are exotic. Yes there certainly is that trend nowadays - my garden is quite unsuitable for many natives and I don"t really want to be told what to grow!! Deirdre

  • By Malle 2570 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    I garden for all the reasons above but as I am an artist I do it also for an aesthetic vision. The garden is my canvas and the plants are my paints which I use to create colours, textures, tones into three dimensional pictures to be enjoyed like a gallery which I regularly stroll through. You are so right, Malle - the creative and artistic aspects of gardening are very important, so thank you for your comment! I love planting combinations of flowers and leaves with harmonious or contrasting colours - it is so exciting and rewarding. Your garden must be amazing - hope you will share it with us some time in our Garden Ramble feature. Deirdre

  • By Allan 4300 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    Hi everyone as a first timer to this site,I read all your comments and they are all true.The garden is in your blood and every fibre of our being.It"s great to walk outside in the mornings and see what is happening in the garden,and of cause the fish in the ponds always come up to meet me ok their always hungery and know I"ll feed them.I"m hoping to learn alot from this site. Welcome, Allan - hope you enjoy the site. It is always a joy to walk in the garden in the morning, especially in the springtime. Instead of fish, I have chickens calling me to bring their breakfast! Deirdre

  • By therese 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 09 September 2013

    What a soulful, & popular, piece this week! Reading this reminded me of my pop"s gift of a red geranium, back in 1978, & each time I look at it today I can see us both sitting on his verandah while he told me how to keep it healthy & trim. Gardening is all those things mentioned by your readers ....so much to so many people....how fortunate are we all to be able to experience the joy of gardening?! That"s a lovely memory re the geranium, Therese. Thanks very much. Deirdre

  • By Mary 3814 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Tuesday, 10 September 2013

    A beautifully written piece on why we garden. A friend of mine created an amazing garden whilst she was coping with extreme mental health issues of her partner. The garden was a "release" for her, and the energy that created a beautifully designed and prolific cottage garden was astounding. Whilst it means we labour a lot in our gardens, it is with pride and satisfaction that we can see the fruits, and enjoy somewhere tranquil to relax. Best wishes for your recovery Deirdre. Many thanks, Mary. Gardens can mean many different things to different people, that is for sure. But the one common theme is that it is always a positive experience, despite the hard work. Deirdre

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