That's one of the questions people will ask when my passion for growing eventually -- okay, instantly -- finds its way into conversation.
Sometimes the query lives in the raised eyebrow of a new acquaintance. My 40-something information technology professional countenance doesn't often jibe with the societal picture of typical gardener.
Yet, I am a gardener -- a gardener to whom the question "why do I garden?" seems almost rhetorical. The question is akin to asking myself, "Why do I breathe?"
They have the same answer: Because I do. To completely reverse the Cartesian notion of existence, I am, therefore I garden.
But forcing my questioners to chew on such hollow philosophy leaves me as the host that serves little more than appetizers to famished dinner guests. For those of you who I've left unsatisfied, and others that wish to pull up a chair, here's the answer.
- The garden connects me to the past. Every day I walk through my garden, I am surrounded by fond memories of family and friends. My grandmother smiles at me from a John F. Kennedy rose in the driveway border, proud of me for picking the petals clean of Japanese beetles. My own history gets relived in the leaves of a hosta division taken from the garden of my childhood home. I remember the friends who have given me pieces of their own gardens, plants that are now intertwined in my own horticultural DNA.
- The garden connects me to the present. The simple title of gardener makes me a welcome part of an inclusive family. Our love of gardening supersedes those things that often divide us. We work the same connected earth; our labels disappear, and we are gardeners.
- The garden connects me to the future. A quick container of annuals. A freshly mulched border. Instant gratification has its place in the garden, but for most moments of satisfaction, a gardener must be patient. We cultivate, then wait. Each and every tomorrow is full of anticipation and promise.
- The garden is creative chaos. With a pencil or paintbrush, I am far from creative; my freehand artistic talent lies somewhere between caveman and kindergarten. This all changes when the garden becomes my living, breathing canvas, with its morphing palette and a nature's penchant for creative chaos. I send the garden in the direction of my vision, then sit back and savor the journey. It's the perfect reminder that our world becomes more perfect when unchained.
- The garden contributes to my health. Fresh air. Soil microbes. Exercise. Meditation. Fresh food. Catharsis. Gardening is quite simply the healthiest thing I do - both physically and mentally. I feel different -- right -- when I am surrounded by it.
- The garden is a microcosm of the natural world. I often say that I'm a gardener because that's the easiest way to be a full-time naturalist in the suburbs. I'm meant to be outside, drinking in what nature has to offer. If I spend too much time indoors, I can feel the slow, real deterioration in my spirits. The garden is my year-round natural ecosystem within a few feet of my front door. She provides me with constant wonder and beauty.
- The garden counsels me. The garden is my place where the world makes the most sense. The motions of maintaining it -- planting, weeding, watering, digging, raking -- are meditative routines that allow me to discard the distractions and sort my emotions. I am a solitary gardener, but I am never alone. I am asking her questions, and listening to her counsel.
I'm an advocate of understanding the why of others. I've given you my why.
What's yours? Let me know in the comments below what keeps you digging in the soil.