Gardening is not a rational activity

“Gardening is not a rational activity.” ~ Margaret Atwood


My son asked me earlier this summer: “Why do you do this? You just keep doing the same thing every year. The weeds return, the bushes are to high for you to trim and you get frustrated. Wouldn’t it be easier to just hire someone to fix up the yard and then you can just sit and enjoy it?”

Although there are moments when that seems tempting — like right about now, when the weeds are quickly beginning to seed, the perennial bed has taken over and the veggies are ripening one at a time. Although the flower bed is Perennial jungle.JPGbeautiful, it is looking a bit chaotic.  It is also too hot some days to do anything about it. Everything is a little over grown. The tomatoes have once again proven to me that you can’t put that many in a raised bed — they are fighting for space, each one crawling over the other hoping to be the plant with branches on top of the pile.

Yes, tomato plant fight.JPGAtwood is right. Gardening is not a rational activity.

I don’t garden for the final product or because I think it is the rational thing to do. I do garden to get flowers and veggies to eat, but I garden for so many other reasons.

There are the practical reasons — health being one of them. I am outside in fresh air working my muscles and taking in a bit of Vitamin D. I am building strength and balance as I crawl around in the garden beds.

Mexican Sunflower 2.JPGThere are the emotional reasons — letting go. When gardening it is hard to think about anything but what is right in front of you (politics can be forgotten for a few minutes). I focus deeply on the task at hand. If  I am working with tools I focus on not hurting myself while using them. When weeding by hand I am focused on the weed I am pulling and the tension needed to bring the roots along, not breaking the plant off at the soil line.  orange tomato.JPG

There are the mental reasons — gardening takes thinking and problems solving. It is difficult to have an efficient garden without planning, designing and revising on an almost daily basis. No garden that I know of is planted and then left on its own. They need revising, cleaning and pruning as well at cutting and picking. It is an ongoing process — a process that makes you sort, organize, think mathematically, create, draw, and build.

Gardening uses all the habits of mind that teachers hope to instill in students –

  • Persistence — not giving up when the weather or bugs or whatever takes over
  • Managing Impulsivity — you really need to stop and think, not just yank out that crazy plant you just found. Is it a weed or something you were really growing?
  • Listening to Others with Understanding and Empathy — learning from others and helping others learn from you. Gardeners always need other gardeners.
  • Thinking Flexibly — everything is always changing day to day in the garden.
  • Thinking About Our Thinking (Metacognition) — reflection and understanding why we made those decisions. What choices did we make last spring and why
  • Striving for Accuracy and Precision — so things will grow.
  • Questioning and Posing Problems — this is a daily process during the growing season. Oh heck, it happens all year long. I spent a good part of the winter months thinking and questioning what I grew, how I responded to things and what I will do next spring.
  • Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations —what worked last year or what didn’t work and how can I improve what I am doing?

White ballon flowers .JPG

Gardening is not rational. There is no real reason why one would set themselves up to do this year after year. But we do. It is a love/hate relationship. One I could not live without!

So sorry son, I will continue to be that crazy, frustrated, happy gardener deep into my old age.  Hybiscus pink.JPG





About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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