Only two or three years ago gardening was pronounced dead.
The baby boomers, who had grown up playing in the yard - and often in the dirt, were growing older, replaced by Gen X’ers, who instead, had grown up with video games, iPods and walkmen. Trips to the nursery gave way to trips to Starbucks.
Dirt was dead! Planting seeds and mulching were quickly becoming as much a part of people’s lives as churning butter or milking a cow. We, those of us who likely read this column, were an aging, shrinking group. Sure there were still a few stalwarts, tending to their backyard plots; digging, planting, weeding and watering. But, like our tomatoes, they were heirlooms, to be admired but not to be emulated; a symbol of a past era.
Why garden when supermarkets, Whole Foods, Grower’s Direct and Henry’s are overflowing daily with fresh selections? Grapes in December, plums in winter, lettuce in summer; strawberries, cantaloupe and grapefruit any day of the year.
Something has changed. Today, home gardening, especially with edible plants is suddenly “hip” again. It seems like everyone is digging and planting. In Washington, Michelle Obama is setting out her cucumbers. In Sacramento, Maria Shriver has marked off the plot of land for her new vegetable garden. Apartment dwellers are filling their balconies with pots of tomatoes and herbs. Community gardens, recently being shuttered, now have lengthy waiting lists.
Why is growing one’s own food so suddenly popular again? Theories abound, including a trend toward local production, worries of pesticide residues, and tainted food recalls from diseases like e-coli. Other conjecture centers on economic realities and peoples desire to save money on expensive fruits and vegetables by growing them at home. These are all sensible explanations.
But I suspect the recent return to the soil for many people has more to do with emotional reasons and less to do with practical reasons.
Why do I garden? I garden because there is something magical about touching the soil, about the smell of the earth. The sunshine on my shoulders, the breeze at my back, the bees buzzing and birds singing takes me far away from my other daily concerns. I suspect I can’t do much about Wall Street or Afghanistan today, but I can do a lot about my row of carrots or how many ears of corn I want this summer.
I garden because I am impatient. Gardening helps me learn to wait. I wait for seeds to become seedlings, for seedlings to grow into plants, for plants to bear fruit, for fruit to ripen and for the harvest to become the meal.
I garden because, when I eat my meal I enjoy the sense of accomplishment I get in seeing the fruits of my labor before me, and of sharing the stories that are behind each of them.
I garden because it gives order to my life. When I garden I surrender to the rhythm of the seasons and the rhythm of the day. I yield to nature; to the interconnectedness of soil, water and air and to the total indifference that nature holds for my frail desires and demands. I am the student. Nature is my teacher. My garden is the classroom.
I garden because I’d rather have a backache than a headache.
I garden because of the satisfaction and serenity that fills me during those moments when I pause long enough to enjoy the beauty and bounty of my efforts.
I garden not so much for practicality as for spirituality. But for a while at least, too busy students, no space apartment dwellers, stressed out businessmen, moms, dads and even children are out playing in the dirt again, sometimes even all together as a family. Whatever the reason, somehow I think that’s a good thing.
Questions from Readers April 25.
Sue, Costa Mesa
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar.