I do believe that gardening is a beneficial activity; I highly recommend it. The walking, weeding, bending, hauling and digging it requires can provide all the exercise you need, and then some. While weeding, I can hear the birds, feel the sun on my neck , taste my own sweat and put my hands in the dirt; my senses get their exercise too. I am entertained watching the corgi races while I prune. There is the element of satisfaction that comes with making physical progress on a project. Riding a stationary bike or lifting barbells has no appeal to me whatsoever. What’s to see? I am sure there are circumstance under which I would run, but none of them are pleasant. Gardening is hard work, but you get more back than an admirable physique-just my opinion.
Exposure to nature teaches a thing or two. There are no end of events in my garden that make clear I am neither the president nor chairman of the board of said enterprise-nor will I ever be up for either position. This is a grown up experience-realizing you are not in charge, nor are you the center of anything. I am the sole depositor to the garden bank account. As nature doesn’t fix what she wrecks, you learn what stewardship is all about. I’ve not met the gardener that does not respect the sanctity of life. I’ve heard tell of toad families rescued from window wells, goslings trapped in the swimming pool netted out to safety-in spite of the flapping fury of the goose Mom. My gardening clients talk to and play with my dogs when they are here, and I know the names of their dogs. No one bothers the insects in my garden-although I do throw my Japanese beetles in the trash. The arborvitae hedge that will take three years to recover from ice damage taught me more than I ever wanted to know about patience. Maintaining a garden is a daily lesson in what is meant by committment. Learning to garden is a process with no end and no diploma; the only person likely to be clapping and dancing about your hellebores would be you. Anyone who has trouble identifying what constitutes a reality check would be set straight with a little gardening.
The gardeners I know by and large have good manners. They don’t mow on Saturday morning at 8am-only non-gardening people do that. They don’t keep boats, bikes and trash cans within view of neighboring gardens. They clean up after their dogs and kids. They do not burn garbage in their fireplaces. What the world sees of them is neat and orderly. The neighbor behind me-I have spent untold amounts in trees and fencing, the sole purpose of which is to obliterate my view of his 2007 and 2008 Christmas tree skeletons, his decaying canoe, his broken pots, dead bushes, and unmowed grass. He is most definitely not a gardener, nor is he a serviceable housekeeper. Gardeners are happy to share their gardens. This extends to offering cuttings or a start, or some useful advice. I see this willingness to share evident no matter the size, circumstance or scope of their garden.
Gardeners do seem to have values. Only once in fourteen years have I have something stolen from the store-an old and spectacularly beautiful lavender topiary. What made me so mad about it was knowing the person who stole it could not have been a gardener; I am sure it was dead within a month. I do not guarantee any plant sold at my shop. I would not want to suggest to anyone that I have control over what they do not do, or do too much of. Gardeners know that ignorance of the horticulture is no excuse. They do not demand restitution-they own their own trouble. They are an honest lot; a nickel in the driveway gets taken to the counter. They don’t envy the gardens of others-they appreciate them. I can be thoughtless and act poorly the same as the next person-but my garden reminds me that the heat of the moment pales in comparison with the big picture.
I like the holidays for these same reasons. They bring out the best in people. The holidays remind us that if we are able, we should help others in whatever way we can. This may be volunteering, or contributing or instructing-something my garden does routinely for me. Decorating for the holidays makes people feel good and act better. I have seen lots of smiles, and been treated to an equally large number of “happy holidays” and “Merry Christmas” greetings. Rob, whose optimism, patience and good manners rarely desert him, helps people plan to decorate, or entertain in a garden-like fashion. It’s nice to see adult faces lighting up once a sense of holiday spirit takes hold; I see him make this happen all the time. Last year an outspoken client came to the register with a wreath she wanted-in the next breath she is telling me her work hours had been cut and changed, and she really had no business buying it . I told her I would take whatever she had in her wallet in settlement of the debt. I took her twelve dollars, and she left smiling. Two days later she was back-a platter heaping with her homemade baklava in tow. Good spirit-there’s nothing quite like it.
I have never seen so many gardens lit for the season as I have this year. Some are beautiful, some are dramatic-some are out there-but what they share in common is the gesture of light against the dark. I can attribute some of this to our warm November weather; Janet thinks the reason has to do with an instinct and the good will to provide light in a dark time. A spirited gesture. I think she may be right.