Why We Garden (Gardening Beyond Reason)
Urban gardening isn’t just about harvesting vegetables, it is a form of protest, an escape from modernity and a world of efficient systems.
If there is a Zen to gardening it is this simple fact: it’s not about the food, it’s not about the politics, it’s not about the greater good, the health or the DIY collectives; it’s about recovering a piece of irrationality, living beyond the efficiency at the core of our civilization’s malaise.
Photo By Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison
I thrust my hand into the dark earth and curl my fingers into a loose fist around a clump of soil. The rays of sun above me filter through the coverage of a heritage magnolia tree, its canopy blocking half of the potato bed below. In the wet days of spring the magnolia’s clumpy red roses blanketed the backyard for weeks. I’ve spent hours, if not days in total, tolerating this one tree alone, religiously clearing the wilting red petals while tiptoeing around the young seedlings the tree attempted to smother at my feet. Now that it’s July, the buds are mostly gone and the green foliage is thick along the scraggly chocolate-brown limbs. The light is still diffused in the branches, but the potatoes don’t seem to mind—their water-saturated stalks, with fuzzy green leaves, are two feet tall now. Months ago, my neighbor attempted to convince me to cut the magnolia down to save all of this extra work. I told him I wasn’t about to cut down a 50-year-old tree for the sheer inconvenience of sweeping flowers—and now that I know how long it takes to grow one simple seed into a real edible thing, how could I? If there is a Zen to gardening it is this simple fact: it’s not about the food, it’s not about the politics, it’s not about the greater good, the health or the DIY collectives; it’s about recovering a piece of irrationality, living beyond the efficiency at the core of our civilization’s malaise.
The Beginnings of Why We Garden
Gardening is kind of a lame word. It invites images of leisurely grandmothers, flower print gloves, and poor weekend fashion sense. And urban farming doesn’t seem to capture what I see happening in the yards and community garden plots around my neighborhood. Urban farming is a subversive activity, but only when it crosses the threshold from pastime to lifestyle. When that happens, something in you changes. Like the religious experiences of youth or the rapture of love, suddenly an entire realm of imagination opens up. You begin to pay more attention to the wind, the temperature and the sunshine. Everything becomes relational to the growing seeds, away from the ego, away from the self, away from the paradigm that puts you at the center of everything worthwhile. You start moving slower through the streets, eyeing scrap wood in the alleyways for potential plant beds. You examine rogue wild flowers for clippings. Rainy days become more bearable. The burning ball of fire in the sky has more meaning. You scorn the glass towers and give cheers to wild lawns and old houses deteriorating under the pressure of nature and time.
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