With summer rapidly approaching, most of us avid gardeners are finally back in action. Being cooped up indoors for extended periods of time (like a Canadian winter) eventually takes its toll on all of us. We long to get back outside and into our gardens and revel in the challenges and consolations they offer.
I don’t want to get excessively lyrical about gardening because, let’s face it, gardens (like cats) tend to have a mind of their own. Writing recently in The Globe and Mail, writer and editor Susan Glickman made much the same point:
“My garden reminds me annually how little control I have over it. Oh, I can go around whacking stuff with shears and secateurs to whip it into line, I can weed till my back gives out, I can squish aphids by hand, but such retaliation on my part only proves how resilient the garden is and how impervious to my intentions.”
Is Gardening Restorative?
Gardening is, for most avid gardeners, supposed to be restorative. And while that’s generally true, especially the spiritual part, gardening can be a serious test of character and fortitude. Gardens, in short, can – like any creative process – be a struggle.
As Ms. Glickman observes: “Every winter kills a few things – invariably the expensive ones – and results in unwelcome surprises, as when the gorgeous yellow climbing rose proves to have been grafted onto a boring white R. multiflora that sends ambitious suckers in all directions and is shockingly hard to dig up. And what happened to the darling columbines that used to nod their pert little heads from every nook and cranny? Everyone else says they spread lavishly and take no maintenance, but I have to beg and plead with my flowers to persist. Most of them tender but a few grudging and ephemeral blossoms.”
Joan Miró On Gardening
“I work like a gardener,” the great painter Joan Miró wrote in his meditation on creativity. Those words, which subsequently became the title of a book he wrote, offer a window into the soul of most artists – whether they paint, or sculpt, or write. To garden – even simply to be in a garden – is nothing less than a triumph of resistance against the merciless race of modern life.
We live in a time when much of our cultural inspiration is reduced to “content” and “assets,” factory-farmed by a social media machine that turns creators into semi-mindless creatures hooked on constant and immediate positive reinforcement via “likes” and “shares.”
What I like about gardening is that, in addition to the aesthetic consolations the practice offers, it’s also a way to fight back. There is something deeply humanising in listening to the rustle of a tree newly in leaf, or watching a bumblebee romance a blossom. I find it soothing and calming to kneel down in the fragrant earth and dig a hole in order to plant a new sapling or a shrub, gently moving a startled earthworm or two out of the way. Smelling the sweet scents of the flowers, sampling a berry from a bush or digging up the first baby carrot of the season!
Walt Whitman knew this when he wrote about what makes life worth living as he convalesced from a stroke:
“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on – have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear – what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons – the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.”
That’s why I paint, and also why I garden.