April 5, 2018

Qui Hortos?

What kind of a person gardens?  What attracts them to gardening?  Every year at this time, I get to answer those questions anew as 70 to 75 gardeners either sign up for or return to the community garden I help run.  There’s no application to fill out and so there is no line titled ‘occupation’.  I’ve certainly never demanded to know what people do with their time when they’re not gardening.  But some people tell me and sometimes their emails betray an occupation.  Others let the cat out of the bag gradually.

The Medfield Community Garden.
From the air, it looks quite orderly.
For example, we have a surgeon and at least two nurses.  I’ve gotten to know the surgeon fairly well.  For him, a few hours in the garden on a Sunday morning is what he needs to let go of the inevitable stress from his livelihood.  His garden is neat and orderly; something I like to see in someone who is going to make an incision in me.  Our resident school nurse also runs a tight ship, though her husband is an engineer, which might skew the results just a bit.  Another medical professional – an operating room nurse – has a garden so weed-free it’s spooky.

We also have an elementary school principal.  Her vegetables tended toward the ‘free range’ variety, but the veggies and flowers are all healthy and growing.  ‘Well-nurtured’ is an apt description, and I have a hunch that also describes her educational charges.

Our gardener who is an immigration
lawyers doesn't want to fences to
constrain his vegetables
The most inventive and exploratory gardens belong to our horticulturally-inclined scientists.  One is an academician whose plot runs to things like tomatillos and eye-wateringly hot peppers.  Another plot gardened by a chemist grows nine different types of lettuce and has precise squares of corn planted ten days apart.  I feel as though I am watching experiments unfolding.

It is my observation that attorneys do not necessarily make superior gardeners.  One of our number specializes in immigration.  His vines conspicuously meander all over his unfenced garden, as though he is loathe to limit vegetable mobility.  Another is in corporate law.  She’s just expanded from a half plot to a full one; perhaps the product of a successful takeover.

We’ve had a veterinarian for two years and are about to get a second one.  Our established vet keeps a great garden with exceptionally healthy plants that are kept free of disease and pests.  I can’t wait to see how the second one fares – especially given that her spouse is a conservation biologist.

This gardener has kids in middle
school.  I think her mind is elsewhere.
We have one banker in our midst.  And another one whose email identifies the individual as being a sales manager.  The less said about those two gardens, the better.

Our retirees fall into two categories.  The first is those for whom gardening forms a significant part of their recreation and weekly exercise.  They are a pleasure to have as gardening neighbors.  The condition of their plots bespeaks a life well lived, they grow copious amounts of produce, and they are quick to share their bounty with our local Food Cupboard.  The second group travels frequently and their gardens are, well, something of an afterthought.  They tend to sign up for a plot, plant it all at once, and water it too heavily and too often.  In mid-summer, they become annoyed by my asking them to weed their aisles.  After a year or perhaps two, they move onto the next retirement time-filler.

The final category are the stay-at-home moms and dads (and, yes, we have a few of the latter).  I thought there was no correlation between gardening and full-time parenting until I looked at the ages of the children accompanying their parents.  Those with toddlers and pre-school kids are terrific gardeners.  They use their plots as educational tools.  But, as the children age, the parental gardening skills decline.  By the middle school years, the weeds sprout with abandon (I have learned to take this into account when sending out reminders).  Equilibrium is miraculously restored with high school graduations.

I don’t believe these observations are colored by preconceptions.  I like all of my gardeners because they’ve chosen to garden.  In a world of choices, they’ve elected to get their hands dirty, and to do so among a crowd of like-minded people.  So, what kind of gardener am I?   A satisfied one.