Dirt – What is Gardening, Anyway?

GardeningNo good definition of gardening exists? Let me attempt to remedy the situation.

My electronic dictionary defines gardening as, “The activity of tending and cultivating a garden, especially as a pastime.”

Were we not warned in elementary school not to define a word by using the word you were defining? “Running is when we run.”

The word “tending” also bothers me. My muscles tend to ache with implications when I think of tending.

And, “pastime.” As I straighten my aching back and look around the yard I am thinking, “Is this what my mother raised me to do?”

Wiki defines “Gardening is the practice of growing and cultivating plants as part of horticulture.” (Horticulture being “the practical botany of gardens.” Ahem!)

Elsewhere Wiki says, “Gardening is the growing of plants such as flowers, shrubs and trees as a hobby or recreation.”

Once again, I’m straining under “hobby” and “recreation.”

And, “growing?” A positive thought, but what about dispatching? The definition ignores death. Cutting down. What about movement? Digging up. Transplanting. How does that pile of dirt over there fit into gardening?

While trying to expand on the word “plants” by mentioning flowers, shrubs, and trees, this distracts. What about pergolas? Garden art? Large boulders moved from here to there because the yard looks better? How does that fit into gardening?

The Encyclopedia Britannica: “Gardening is the laying out and care of a plot of ground devoted partially or wholly to the growing of plants such as flowers, herbs, or vegetables.”

A “plot of ground.” Finally someone brings in dimensionality to the picture. The “where.” We must garden in a garden. A place.

But the Encyclopedia Britannica uses the “such as” to divert us from hardscaping (hardscaping is “hard”) or from the larger plants such as shrubs and trees. I see someone with plated garden scissors and a small basket for collecting cut flowers. What about rock gardening?

Gardening sounds pretty easy in these definitions.

To correct this glaring oversight amongst the elite and the desk-bound I herewith propose the following definition:

Gardening is the act of placing and moving organic and inorganic matter In a less than random process from one part of the property to another part of the property at irregular intervals.

This activity is sometimes augmented by the planting of large, heavy, inorganic objects for decorative or other purposes when one wearies of organic movement.

One of the occupants of the property usually initiates gardening with a comment:

“This plant here should go over there because (fill in reason: too little sun, too much water, whatever).”

moving organic materialOr,

“This needs more compost (mulch, plants, fertilizer).”

“The night temperature is right. It’s time to move all the houseplants out (in).”

“Don’t you think this needs something?”

A pending event normally causes a need for haste (weather, season change, holidays, sundown, guests).

Typically thought of as an activity constrained in time (before dinner, this afternoon, next month), gardening is actually a non-temporal activity, infinite in extent. The activity or thought generating the activity is never-ending and always evolving.

Glaciers gardened. They transformed the landscape by moving around soil and rocks, by digging out ponds, and uprooting trees and shrubs. Before even the glaciers there was human gardening:

(Wife to Trog)

“This needs more sunlight.”

“You know, if the water in that pond were over here, we could…”

“Let’s box in this field and plant something.”

As modern anthropologists have pointed out, gardening is even older than hunting. The bible tells us so. Eve: “Don’t you think we need a fruit tree over there?”

Our efforts seem minor in the light of history and civilization. The next time my back hurts from moving three hundred pounds of soil from the driveway to the “garden” I will remember the others who have gardened before me. I will think of the Inca potato fields on the patios in the Andes. Echoing down through the ages: “Don’t you think we need a few more rocks in that wall?”

(About Dirt)(Next Chapter – “In the Garden of Challenges and Inspiration“)

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