I remember the day a friend asked me why I was wasting so much time tilling and digging and planting and weeding my garden when vegetables were so cheap in the grocery store, especially during the summer. I had to admit, it was a reasonable question that I didn’t really have an answer for. I just gardened unconsciously and never once wondered why I was doing it. It just seemed like something important like doing the dishes. That was all I could say, “I guess I like it.” But it made me think and, since then, I have asked myself the same question over and over until it has become a longstanding internal missive of mine. “Why I garden” has become what I like to call a life thesis that cycles through my day to day during the growing season as I plant rows and pull weeds. I have put this question to not only myself, but to the soil, the seeds, and the green beings with whom I engage in this activity. I don’t expect to ever really have a concrete “answer”, nor do I particularly want one, as I truly enjoy the rush of curiosity such a question incites and prefer to stay in the “asking” state indefinitely. This allows me the joy of contact with the infinite and magical depths of this sacred and ancient human activity with presence while staying open to the authentic responses of my own heart.
Instead of coming up with the answer to “why I garden”, I have discovered many truths:
I garden because my father planted a garden that took up almost our entire city backyard even though my brother and I begged him for an in-ground pool. And because he planted tomatoes that we ate fresh for dinner every night, sliced and sprinkled with salt. I garden because he used to sound so happy when he said he had planted the “basilee-gal” which means sweet basil in his interpretation of his father’s Italian dialect.
I garden because every time we went to visit an extended family member during the summer they gave us a tour of their garden.
I garden because I think I’m in Eden. I think we all are and we are only cast out when we forget this and think we need something more than this great, green quintessence.
I garden because my grandparents lived on a sandy, rocky mountain and they dragged in topsoil, piled it up and built a 6 foot fence around it to keep the deer out so they could plant their own food.
I garden because my Irish grandfather was a farmer.
I garden because my Irish great-grandfather snuck into the United States so he could own his own land and grow his own food.
I garden because my ancestors starved.
I garden because digging a potato out of the ground makes me feel like I’ve found gold.
I garden because I wanted my kids to eat their vegetables and the only way they would without coercion was if they thought they were getting away with something by sneaking the vegetables right off the plants before I had a chance to pick them. I used to even pretend to be mad about it so they would try even harder to sneak them.
I garden because I love catching small children with their faces smeared with half-chewed green snap pea juice.
I garden because of the time my daughter said “Mom, all you care about is your garden” and I thought “Yes, because it’s one of the ways I know how to love you best. This garden, this garden, every flower, every leaf, every root and every weed, I give this all to you and do this all in praise of my love for you and your life.”
I garden because I was a young stay-at-home mother who often felt isolated and depressed and I had to garden to save my life and my mind and, not only did I save my own life, but I grew and grew and grew.
I garden because it kept me from running away
I garden because I’m afraid that growing your own food is becoming a lost skill and I want to participate in the remembering of it.
I garden because I want my children to know how to grow their own food.
I garden as an offering to the beauty of nature and my love of creation.
I garden to stay humble and close the Earth.
I garden because it makes my body strong.
I garden because the tomatoes I grow taste better than any that I’ve ever tasted.
I garden because some plants have become endangered and I want to keep them alive.
I garden because I want the spirits that live in the plants to know I’m here.
I garden because I was trained by some powerful wise women and that’s what they did.
I garden because I love the smell of dirt.
I garden because I was told the only other options were heaven or hell and I prefer Earth.
I garden because in the winter, when everything seems dead, I know it’s just strategizing.
I garden because I find gardening activities meditative and I often discover insights about personal problems or situations while I’m weeding and planting.
I garden because some distant ancestor of mine, of all of ours, decided to gather a seed.
I garden as an act of civil disobedience.
I garden because there are people starving and homeless and war-torn and I don’t know what to do about it except to keep feeding the good in the world and myself in hopes that, by feeding the good and healthy, the collective good will increase. That maybe if I keep up the seeding and planting and eating there will be more seeds and plants and fullness in the world. Because I don’t know what else to do except to keep replanting the love and abundance that has been made apparent to me instead of denying it or ignoring it or feeling guilty or wringing my hands and feeling helpless. Because every seed is a wish for new life and a new world and burying it in the ground is the one thing that I can do. And each seed reminds me that something must be buried and die in order for something new to be born.
I garden because some people can’t and so I do it for them and while I’m doing it I imagine some great, giant God. This is the God of human gardens and it’s the God that creates all the food in the world and he has a big cauldron labeled “human gardens” where the spirits of all the gardens on Earth live and when someone calls to him in their need he dips in a giant sized ladle and pours food on the hungry.
I garden because it's one of the ways I pray and bow my head to the divine. It's how I lift my heart to the Sun and kiss the ground at my feet.
May your roots grow deep and your gardens grow wild,