The Nutritious Solitude of Gardening

The plum blossoms began the avalanche of spring and now it’s spreading everywhere, as tree after tree and whole hillsides start to bloom. For gardeners who looked at their gardens through the window during the winter, it’s time for the first damp forays outside. The soil is soft and alive, weeds pull out easily to the hand, and everywhere are buds, shoots, tendrils, fuzzy fern fiddleheads, mushrooms springing moistly, life itself exploding.

 Plum blossoms.

Plum blossoms.

Gardening is an odd combination of solitude and company. Many of us do the actual work of gardening alone for hours. The rhythmic solitudes of cultivation can soothe a soul overburdened with stress and stimulation. But we are seldom truly alone in a garden. Hummingbirds challenge us in their territory, squirrels and jays scold, bugs wander from overturned rocks. Our thoughts accompany us as well. As peace rises in the soul, intuitions may occur, connections may be made, conclusions may complete themselves, and decisions may form. The rituals of gardening open up space in the jumble of a hurried week.

The nutritious solitude of gardening has an angle of loneliness in it as well. Who will admire the perfect shaping of a shrub, the artistic spacing of the renewed perennial border, the loft of a fluffy seedbed? Who will encourage us in a moment of hopelessness before the onslaught of oxalis, bramble, ivy invaders, the infestations, the crop soggy and molding or dry and bolting?

This is when gardening books and garden writers become important allies. The best books scold and strategize as well as inspire and encourage. They remind us of what is possible as well as saying “I told you so.” They become good friends, whose humorous critique and encouragement are as useful as any other garden tool.

Here are three of my current favorite gardening companions.

Pam Peirce, Golden Gate Gardening“You can eat fresh garden produce all year with little need for food preservation” (page 27).

Wendy Johnson, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate: “In honor of wildness inside and outside the garden gate, every spring I leave a random corner of our garden untended” (page xii).

Toby Hemenway, Gaia’s Garden“…using new techniques from permaculture and ecological design, and old ones from indigenous people and organic gardening, a few pioneers have created landscapes that feel like nature but provide a home for people as well” (page xv).

Why not stop by an independent bookstore and take home a friend to garden with?