I always feel grumpy when people refer to gardening as a hobby, and now I know why.
This winter, garden columnist Allen Lacy died, and in The New York Times obituary there was a quote from one of his books that suddenly made clear why the hobby moniker has never sat well with me. “Gardening is not a hobby,” Lacy wrote in The Inviting Garden. “There is nothing wrong with having hobbies, but most hobbies are intellectually limited and make no reference to the larger world. By contrast, being wholeheartedly involved with gardens is involvement with life itself in the deepest sense.”
Now, before the collectors of, say, turquoise teacups made in the 1920s rise up in protest, let’s pause to reflect on what he meant.
Gardening means growing. And while it can have aspects that emulate interior decorating (“let’s put this red flower next to that purple one”), the point is that gardening connects you to Life with a capital L. Whether you buy a transplant or sow a seed, you are getting down to the nitty gritty of things and being a part of something much bigger than yourself.
No sooner have you dug a hole for your first plant than you start to become aware of The Larger World. Seasons – Time, The Need for Patience – in short, Nature. Eventually the plant does something bizarre like produce a flower or a fruit, and Beauty enters your vocabulary. Then Joy. This is ever so much more satisfying than collecting turquoise teacups (although turquoise is a beautiful color, and tea is my favorite drink).
And not just satisfying. Important. Profound.
I’ve always found it intriguing that at the end of Bernard Bertolucci’s biographical 1987 film “The Last Emperor,” the former Son of Heaven becomes a gardener. Closer to home, I recall that I once wrote a garden column in the Chicago Sun-Times and opined, “Did you ever know a mugger who gardened?” Not that I know any muggers, but the two activities are mutually exclusive. You can’t be both a person who destroys things and hurts others and also someone who nurtures life and brings beauty to the world. Ain’t gonna happen.
I love garden magazines and consider them valuable because they shine a light on people who are nurturing life and bringing beauty to the world in so many different ways.
In this issue, for example, our stories run the gamut from a play garden in an ethnic neighborhood to high end, high-rise container gardens. We also cover fragrant plants, native plants, tomatoes, palms and climbing vegetables (more high risers). And if you raise chickens (or aspire to), here’s an easy way to turn their bedding into what our writer calls “lovely silky black mulch” and improve your soil. Much variety. Much to learn.
It’s all part of Life with a capital L. And now it’s May. Time to get on with it.