Why garden? It's joy, not work

The Best Times Digital Edition

By Dennis Patton 

People often ask me, “Why do you like to garden? Isn’t it a lot work?”

During our recent Extension Master Gardener Garden Tour, I was asked this question several times. The short answer I give is because I enjoy it. If you really enjoy something, it is often not considered work. The long answer is more complex. Let me try to explain why I garden and, more importantly, enjoy helping others learn about the joy of gardening.

The most obvious reason why I garden is for the beauty it brings. The color of a flower, the texture of the foliage and the blending of plants form a canvas. Whether it is a hill on the mountainside or a small planting of flowers along the patio, beauty is everywhere when a garden is planted. Even the toughest curmudgeon can find beauty in nature. Gardeners create beauty not only for themselves but for neighbors and friends.

Each gardener has a different taste. Some are drawn to flowers, while others find beauty in growing plants for food. Some of us like it all by combining ornamental plants with edible plants to get the best of both worlds.

Gardening is a hobby where you can let your personality show. Some like it neat and tidy, while others thrive on a wild and wooly look. All styles are welcomed, and these differences create more beauty to enjoy.

Gardeners often find joy in nurturing. Starting with a seed, we provide for its needs, until a small plant miraculously appears. In my position with extension, I have heard many stories about beloved trees. A tree was planted for a special occasion, such as a child’s birth, an anniversary, or a new home. Over the years, the sapling has grown into a mature specimen gracing the landscape.

Just like us, this beautiful tree begins to age and shows signs of slowing down. When issues arise, gardeners contact me looking for the “tree doctor” to find out what is wrong and how to make it better. Caring for this plant in many ways does not differ much from the care we show our loved ones. I have seen firsthand the grieving process when this plant full of memories has reached the end of its life. The caregiver goes through similar stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

Once accepting the fact that the tree needs to be removed, we can plant another tree for future generations to appreciate. If someone coming before us did not plant a tree, we would not have it to enjoy. Gardening is one of the few hobbies that allow for a second, or even a third chance, to enjoy and create beauty for others.

It has been said gardeners are some of the most optimist people. When we plant a tree, we also plant hope for the future. Nurturing plants nurtures our souls and changes us for the better.

Gardening supports nature for a healthy environment. The news is full of doom and gloom about the loss of habitat for our insects, birds and animals. The plight of many of these species is alarming, especially for insects.

We all have reactions to insects. The most common is to swat and kill. There are over a million species of insects in the world and less than three percent are considered destructive. As we continue to learn more about the importance of insects, we develop a tolerance and change our behavior.

Insects are at the bottom of the food chain that supports our ecosystem. If the foundation of the food chain stumbles, so do all creatures up the chain, including us. More than three-quarters of the world’s food supply is pollinated by insects. As habitat is lost, so are the species calling it home.

Gardeners have the power within their hands to change habitats. They choose to put down the pesticides and embrace the good of insects. Even in their small backyard, they search out and add plants that support insects for their landscape.

It may not seem like much, but when pieced together, it creates a patchwork of plants throughout our community to help support insects and restore the balance.

When asked why I garden, the answer, like so many things in life, is not a simple one or two-word explanation. Why I garden and enjoy teaching others about this passion is a complex list of reasons.

If you are one of those who think gardening is work, give it a try. You might find you too will be bitten by the gardening bug either for its beauty, the joy of nurturing life or for the benefits to nature. Once you find this joy and purpose, it no longer becomes work.

Dennis Patton is horticulture agent at the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension Office.