I’m really nothing special at gardening. Last summer was the first time I ever really tried it, and although some things survived all the way to the end of the summer, even still, little critters destroyed much of the produce before I could harvest it.
But I told myself from the outset that the first year was about getting experience, making mistakes, and growing in confidence. I intended last year to be more a foundation for my future years of gardening, than an actual successful year in itself. In that sense then, it was actually a tremendous success!
I’m even fine to have a couple more summers characterized by mistakes and failures rather than by successes, if that is what it takes for me to grow into being a capable gardener. I know my goal, but I also don’t feel the need to be in any particular rush. I just want every garden I plant to be better than the previous ones I planted, for these first few years.
When I was planning out this reflection, I made a quick list of why I am so determined to become adept at gardening. It was astonishing to me how many reasons I could come up with, quickly, at the drop of a hat. So below I will just try to move through the first part of the list as briefly as I can. I’ll post the other reasons soon in a future post.
1. You might as well use the space. Whether you rent or own, whether you have a giant yard or just a window sill, you’re paying for that space. If you’re not using it, or if it’s just “storage” where you’ve been stacking things you don’t use, then you’re wasting it.
2. Once you’re good at it there can be a sense of security. Covid has reminded us how fragile our modern world really is. If the virus had been a bit more contagious, or a bit more fatal, our lives could have been so much more severely affected. My city has been buried in snow for a month already, and I can still walk around the corner and buy mandarin oranges and bananas and mangoes and pineapples anytime I like. Those aren’t locally grown! If borders had been truly closed off, or if the grocery stores had been left abandoned, this pandemic could have been ten thousand times worse. In that situation, if it ever arises, the people who can garden will be vastly better off than those who can’t.
3. It can be convenient. At the beginning, nothing feels less convenient than gardening, but once you’re in a rhythm, I can see the many ways it can be convenient. For instance, every week my wife and I buy a single bunch of cilantro and one of parsley, because we have some recipes we like that call for these fresh herbs. Even if each only costs a few dollars, that’s money that adds up, that could easily be avoided if we had a little herb garden. What’s more, the herbs have died before we can use all of them, so we have to buy more a week or two later, and the ones we bought previously end up in the compost. If they were growing and alive, rather than decomposing slowly in the fridge, I feel like that would help us out as well!
4. It can support your health. The healthiest foods on the planet are whole plant foods. That’s what you grow in a garden! And I’m told that plants grown in good soil, rather than mass produced on monoculture farms, are even more healthy than their store-bought siblings.
5. It can save you money. We all spend a big portion of our family’s money on groceries. For this past year, with my first attempt at a garden, I did not start my plants from seedlings, and admittedly, buying the baby plants isn’t cheap (although it’s still pretty reasonable compared to grocery shopping). However, if you start from the seeds, which is not that arduous a task when you know what you’re doing, then you can save a lot of money on food as a gardener.
6. It’s delicious. I once lived in a tiny little town, a village really, and I was walking down a street and saw a friend coming the other direction. “John!” he called. He was holding something out as he approached me. As he came closer I saw that it was bulbous and dirty. “It’s a carrot from my garden! Have it.” And then he continued on his way as I stood there on the street, confused. Can you eat a dirty vegetable? And even if you can, why would you? I shrugged, tried to rub some of the clumps of soil off of it, and took a bite. It was an explosion of flavour. I was astonished. I had never known that carrots could taste like that. I have no idea what crimes are committed against the carrots in the grocery store to make them taste so bland by comparison.
7. It’s a free and enjoyable way to spend some time. Now, maybe if Covid had actually shut down the economy and the slugs were eating my family’s only source of food, it would have been less fun. But if you just want to get better as a gardener and you don’t mind a certain amount of failure, it’s a nice way to spend some time on a summer day. It beats trying to find something to watch on Netflix.