Somebody once said a gardener is just a philosopher with dirty hands and an aching back.
Well, maybe nobody actually said that until I just did, but I believe it to be so.
Of all life’s pursuits, few can match gardening when it comes to bringing body and soul together. Why? Because it’s hard to stay mad at the world, or dwell for long on one’s miseries and disappointments while coaxing new life into being.
It’s like parenthood in that respect. It can be arduous, frustrating, sometimes heart-breaking, but there is still a sense of being part of a miracle.
As a child, I loathed gardening, partly because my mother was such a taskmaster about making her five kids do their allotted share of weeding before being set loose to play on a sunny summer day.
The only joy, for a boy – besides having permission to get filthy – was the occasional discovery of a fish-hook worthy earthworm, or an alien like insect with too many legs to count.
Through a child’s eyes, Mom’s vegetable gardens (especially the one in Walkerton, Ontario) seemed to sprawl as broadly as a Texas cattle ranch. There were flowers, too, but they were never the main purpose of the venture.
In retrospect, I realize these were fairly modest plots, enough to relieve the grocery bill and provide a family of seven with fresh produce in season, and shelves of home-canned goods for winter in those early postwar years.
I don’t recall my mother poring over seed catalogues, or tracking the phases of the moon, or meticulously planning what should go where in order to give each plant the companionship it craved.
Yet, year after year, rows of bounty seemed to spring up organically. (I use that term advisedly: rest her soul, Mom and her fellow gardeners did employ such reprehensible means of pest-control as DDT in those unenlightened, pre-Rachel Carson days.)
As the family’s designated window-washer, I resented having to move countless pots of African violets from the windowsills before I could get on with the job, but Mom’s green thumb was a year-round thing.
When age caught up to her, and moving to a seniors’ residence became inevitable, relinquishing her garden was more painful than giving up the house.
Over the years, I learned to love gardening, especially in P.E.I., where it took mere minutes for a tomato to spring from seed to full production.
Now, as an apartment-dweller, my own windowsills have become mini-gardens, with basil for pesto, rosemary for pork, and the odd cactus for unexpected colour.
It’s enough to satisfy a bush-league philosopher, with no aching back or dirty hands, and with no mandatory weeding before being allowed out to play.