Why garden?

My youngest daughter holding radishes

Why do you want to garden?

People plunge their hands into the soil for a variety of reasons. Are you following in your grandmother, grandfather, or parents’ footsteps? Did your mother ever build a sunflower house just for you, or did your father let you play in the garden next to him?

Then, again, maybe you don’t have a mentor. If not, I want to help. My passion for gardening knows no season. Spring is nearly here, and all I can think about are seeds. From favorite flowers that make up the bulk of my garden and new varieties of vegetables I want to try, each day is an adventure. Even though it’s winter, on those days that it’s warmish and sunny, I’m outside cutting back perennials and adding more shredded leaves to the soil. Soon, I’ll be starting seeds indoors and sowing cold crops outside too.

My joy is complete on that first, warm spring day when the Earth is green and growing. It is as close to heaven as I’ll get during my lifetime. Spring is how I know God loves us.

Why garden? A beautiful spring day in the garden is as close to heaven as we can get.
A beautiful spring day in the garden is as close to heaven as we can get.

I want to pass on this essential craft to you. Yes, gardening is a craft. It’s not magic. The magic comes after you plant seeds in warm soil, but there are no secret formulas involving household products that make us successful. Good, old-fashioned compost improves soil and makes magic on its own.

If I pass on my hope and knowledge to you, maybe you’ll pass it onto your children too. I sometimes fear we’re coming to a time when no one, except Big Ag will grow anything. My concern is one reason I wrote The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff. Writing books doesn’t make much money, but it is satisfying to talk to so many people who love, or want to love gardening too.

There are zinnias hiding behind those sunflowers in the vegetable garden.
Building a sunflower house isn’t hard, and it makes memories that last forever.

I’ve done my best to transfer my love of growing things to my children. They are young–most are in their 20s–and just starting out, so only time will tell if I’ve been successful. I built Megan a sunflower house when she was small. She still talks about it, and I know, one day, she’ll build one with her children when she has them. We built it before I began taking photos and blogging, but we still have our precious memories of that summer. Bear and I planted and harvested radishes, and she loves radishes to this day. Brennan played with his Tonka trucks making construction sites in a bare are of the garden as I planted nearby. He doesn’t garden yet, but he knows how because he teases me about it all the time.

The view of the potager from the other side. I'm standing next to the greenhouse and facing south.
The potager (kitchen garden) in June.

It’s important to pass down our love for soil and sunshine to our children because they don’t get outside as often as children once did. Worries over child predators and use of the Internet have changed childhood forever. Do you remember playing outside all day and listening for your mother to call you home for supper? I do. Each day was a grand adventure filled with bike riding, scraped knees and dirt. Gardening is as close as our children and grandchildren will get to that feeling of freedom and earthly joy. Plus, they’ll get more vitamin D if they get outside. So will you.

Another view of the potager in spring.
Another view of the potager in spring.

Here are some other reasons why I think people start gardening.

  • To save money. In the long run, gardening will save you money. However, you will have startup costs like purchasing seeds, containers, building materials for raised beds, purchasing manure or other organic fertilizers and potting soil or soil. Yes, people who live with terrible buy it and burm it up for raised beds. You may also need to rent, buy or borrow equipment to help you break up your native soil. So, while you may garden to save money, know that you will need to purchase some things to get started. To minimize expenses, trying buying tools with friends, or borrow them from a neighbor. Be sure to return the items in better condition than you found them. It will make you friends with your neighbor for life. As a friend, you can also “borrow” his/her knowledge if he/she is a gardener too. There’s nothing like the knowledge from someone who grows in your own climate and conditions. Also, join a seed swap and trade seeds with others. It’s another great way to be part of the community.
'Park's Whopper Improved' tomato was a determinate variety that kept me in tomatoes all summer.
‘Park’s Whopper Improved’ tomato was a determinate variety that keeps me in tomatoes all summer.
  • Food, glorious food. Vegetable gardeners tend to be foodies. I know I’m one. One reason we grow our own vegetables is to have the very best ingredients. However, don’t feel like you have to grow everything you see in the supermarket. Different plants have different seasons. You can still go to a great grocery store and find many items, including organic produce, that may be too hard to grow in your area. Certain foods like lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, eggplant and many herbs are the best you’ve ever eaten when grown right outside your back door. That’s why I line my kitchen garden beds with herbs. I can step outside and cut some for supper. There is nothing like it, and I feel so self-sufficient when I do. Herbs are easy to grow too.
Variegated culinary sage is a perennial herb in my climate.
Variegated culinary sage is a perennial herb in my climate.
  • Natural Beauty. My surroundings are as important to me as the air I breathe, so I often choose vegetables, fruit and flowers simply for beauty’s sake. Bill loves blueberries so I grow them in containers outside on our back deck. In fact, I have twenty-three containers of various plants at last count. Some are vegetables. Others contain roses and tropical plants to create an oasis that softens the sounds and sights of my closest neighbor.
My blueberries growing in containers.
My blueberries growing in containers.
  • Peace of Mind. Our Earth is a fragile ecosystem, and anything we can do to make the planet better is one of the best reasons to garden. By the very things we choose to grow, and how we grow them, we can definitely help our planet and pollinators. If you’re worried about the agriculture system, growing your own food is one way to lessen the impact of genetically modified produce and chemicals in what you eat. Our ecosystem is delicately balanced, and the animals and insects that call your garden home will bless you everyday as they go to work. You help the bees, hoverflies and other insects by providing them with nectar, and they help you by visiting your plants and pollinating them. It’s a beautiful thing.
Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea.
Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea.
  • Unplug and go outside. Finally, we should all just unplug and spend some time outside breathing fresh air. Unplug and go outside is the motto of the U.S. Forest Service. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer screen, and I bet you do too. Fresh air, exercise and even dirt are good for us. Soil has good bacteria that makes us feel good. It’s true! A strain of bacteria in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which elevates mood and decreases anxiety.
  • So those are some of the reasons why I think people garden. Hands in the soil and sunshine on our hair are good reasons too. I’d love to hear why you like to garden. I’ve also linked to some of my previous posts on starting seeds and other early garden chores for you to find more easily. Have a glorious Sunday my friends!

    Come to the Oklahoma Gardening School

    The Crystal Bridge with the Devon Tower.
    The beautiful Myriad Botanical Gardens in downtown Oklahoma City.
    The beautiful Myriad Botanical Gardens in downtown Oklahoma City.

    Have you heard? Each year, the Myriad Botanical Gardens holds an Oklahoma Gardening School in the center of downtown Oklahoma City. This year’s theme is “From Chard to Chickens: Rethinking the American Kitchen Garden.” Sounds like a 20-30 Something event to me. I took all of these pictures of the Myriad Botanical Gardens last June when I wrote an article for Oklahoma Gardener magazine about three Oklahoma botanical gardens.

    Another shot of the Myriad Botanical Gardens.
    Another shot of the Myriad Botanical Gardens in June.

    This year’s school starts on Friday with a course on urban chickens from Noon to 1:30 p.m. This is ironic since Oklahoma City recently decided to veto chickens in urban backyards–a decision that makes me sad. However, I have news for the city. Chickens are thriving everywhere within its borders. I see and occasionally hear them as I drive my daughter to school. Oklahoma City has had an underground chicken raising movement for years, and I guess, they’ll just stay underground awhile longer. Rosalind Creasy, who’s written numerous books on edible landscaping that I’ve read from cover-to-cover, will be the featured lecturer on Friday and Saturday. Garden School opens at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 15, 2014, and runs until 3:00 p.m. Local and national speakers fill the day-long program.

    • Tres Fromme opens the day with a talk on the processes behind edible landscape design. Tres is the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Landscape Design and Planning Manager. I saw the botanical garden when I visited Atlanta during the Garden Bloggers Conference.
    • Rosalind Creasy will present her work in edible landscaping, one of my favorite topics for sure.
    • Brian Pirtle–one of my favorite local speakers–manages Cedar Spring Farms and formerly worked for TLC Nursery. He will speak on Vegetable Gardening in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has its own special problems, and Brian certainly knows how to grow here.
    • Samantha Snyder, who is on KTOK radio every Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. will close out the school speaking about common garden problems including pests and diseases.
    The Crystal Bridge with the Devon Tower.
    Our own tropical conservatory, the Crystal Bridge with the Devon Tower.

    It’s a great lineup. If you’re a member of the garden (and you should be), the cost is only $30. It you’re not a member, it’s still a steal for $60. A box lunch is included.

    At the break between speakers and at the end of the day, there will be book signings. Although I’m not speaking at the Garden School this year, I will be there signing books.

    The Myriad Botanical Gardens as seen from the other side.
    The Myriad Botanical Gardens as seen from the other side of the conservatory.

    I hope y’all come. The Gardening School is a great resource for Oklahoma gardeners and starts off our garden season with a bang. Plus, you should visit our amazing conservatory the Crystal Bridge, designed by I.M. Pei, while you’re there! Who, but Oklahoma, has something like that?