Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Sept. 22, 2021

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The Garden Life: Gardening also transforming for the gardener

The Columbian
2 Photos
A cluster of early crocuses signals the return of the spring garden.
A cluster of early crocuses signals the return of the spring garden. Photo Gallery

For most of us, gardening is not the daily work we do that puts money in our pockets. We work for a living and garden before or after. It’s interesting that during the time we spend working in the garden, the word “work” takes on a different meaning. In this sense, we lose any feeling of drudgery. We put our heart into the effort.

Two transformations occur when a person becomes a gardener. First, the look of the land itself. A yard begins to take on a new shape. A patio becomes a room. An order and an aesthetic that somehow mimics the personality of the gardener emerges. While one friend’s garden exudes an aura of class, another is glitzy from the get-go. Fellow gardeners relish a garden with personal flavor.

Then, there is the change of the gardener. In the process of planting a rose or choosing a garden ornament, moving rocks or sitting for a five-minute coffee break, you, the gardener, come to know yourself. No one knows better what they like and dislike, what gives them pleasure than a person in the act of creating something. I never knew I was partial to a certain shade of yellow, until I chose the subtle Moonbeam coreopsis for my garden.

Gardeners often spend hours alone, working on a chore like weeding or watering new plants. This type of work allows them to do little more than think. Ideas come to them, and they have time to muse and ponder. They learn to grieve wholeheartedly and plan ahead for a child’s birthday present. They hear the melodic rustling of the breeze through aspen leaves, and hum a once-forgotten song an old friend used to sing.

The magic of the garden is this: to reap all the benefits, you do not have to get it right. Gardening is like real life. By thought and effort, you can change what you think needs to be changed, now or next year. You probably will, because no other single work of art stays with us so long and lasts through our personal transformations like a garden. As we change, the garden changes and as the garden grows, so do we.

As viable as a painter creating a picture or a writer creating a book, a gardener truly does create a garden. To create a garden, one needs to use the mind, the body, all of one’s senses — and a healthy dose of spirit, as well. A garden is part of nature, and nature is a great metaphor for life. To some people, Mother Nature is a metaphor for a higher power. You work with Mother Nature; you don’t take over her job.

Some spend most of their gardening time trimming, edging, weeding and spraying rather than puttering, planting and moving plants, dreaming and, yes, just enjoying the garden. To experience the pleasure of gardening, you need to expect more than mere results. What you reap from the garden may come long after the harvest. It is the accumulation of moments, a sustained sense of joy, despite the results.

Playing our part

It’s possible that your 5-year-old patch of delphiniums, tall and stately, bluer than your memory of the sky in late spring, will die one winter after every effort to give them the best care. You will be sad for a while, and then go on. We don’t forget the ethereal beauty of what we once had in a garden, but we might find unexpected solace in the rougher, more reliable nature of the common daisy.

On a full, long day in the garden, you might find yourself digging a hole with a shovel, putting a plant into the earth and shaping the soil around the base of the plant with your hands. You hear the birds’ sing-song in a tree you planted yourself and smell the solid scent of new-mown lawn. In time, these wonders are accepted as a natural part of our lives.

We don’t have to understand for the wonder to continue. We just have to play our part. Be there, and be happy to be in the midst of it all. So, you do a bit of labor, and a plant grows well. In the process, something from within you rises to the surface. Using your unique talents, you fashion an idea in your mind. Using earth, water, and the plants available to you, you bring them all together, as you see fit. Before you know it, you have created something very real: a garden.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at