Learning How to Garden
by Steven Paul
The idea of learning how to nurture, cultivate, and finally reap the rewards nature had to offer has always held a moderate interest with me. So when the opportunity arose to learn a little something about our carbon-breathing friends, I jumped at the chance.
The most important thing (and arguably the least tangible thing) I've learned thus far is that gardening is not as simple as sticking a plant in the ground and watering it every day. Plants, like people, are all different and all have different "personalities" in a sense. Some enjoy shade and need little water, others need near constant sun and don't need to stay as hydrated, and some fall somewhere in between there, or outside of those criteria completely! Some plants need constant attention and others do well on their own. Plants also have geographic preferences. Some plants favor a grassy hill, others would rather be in the flatlands.
Tying in with all that, I've realized that plants will tell you everything you need to know about them in their appearance - their way of using "body language", if you will. If there are dried out portions of the plant, it probably needs water. If there is a lot of overgrowth, it's time to prune it and give it some TLC, as it probably hasn't been receiving the attention it deserves.
I suppose I've learned that caring for a garden is similar to some degree to raising a child - with careful tending, a strong and beautiful person will develop, while neglect will only beget disappointing results.
The second most important thing I've learned is the difference between landscaping and gardening. Though maybe it comes across a bit pretentious, gardening is the scalpel to landscaping's steak knife - that is to say, landscaping is not quite as refined as gardening. I had never realized the difference until I started really looking at the two professions - the lack of finesse is obvious. Gardening takes patience and a delicate touch, while landscapers will bulldoze the land and go from there. It's simple if you look at the etymology: "landscaping" directly implies creation, which isn't an inherently bad thing, it's just unfortunate that destruction must take place in order for creation to begin. I've found that I identify with a refinement and restoration process more than a delete and rebuild process, so I think I've ended up in the appropriate school of thought.
Sure I've learned a lot of more basic, less visceral things - the dire invasive properties of Japanese stilt grass, why you must break free a plant's root system before you relocate it - but that's not what I think gardening is about. Sure, at face value, maybe that's all it is, but in a line of work so given to aesthetics, it seems appropriate that I would find myself writing of the ethereal rather than the empirical. At the end of it, who knows? I may well end up learning as much about myself as I do about shrubbery.
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published August 29, 2013