In this unit, I’m going to help you think through your role as a gardener.
At the one extreme, there is the notion that your role is one of complete control. Let me give you an example:
In Principles of Gardening: The Practice of the Gardener’s Art author Hugh Johnson states:
“What, if anything, do the infinities of different traditional and individual ideas of a garden have in common? They vary so much in purpose, in size, in style and content that not even flowers, or even plants at all, can be said to be essential.
In the last analysis, there is only one common factor among all gardens, and that is control of nature by man. Control, that is, for aesthetic reasons. A garden is not a farm.
The essence is control. Without constant watchful care, a garden – any garden – rapidly returns to the state of the country round it. The more fertile and productive your garden is, the more precarious its position. . . .The rake, the hoe, the shears and the broom lie at the very heart of gardening”
Somewhere close to the other end of the spectrum regarding the role of the gardener is The No-Work Garden Book by Ruth Stout. She maintains that most of the work associated with gardening is really unnecessary except for year-round mulching.
Here’s another angle to approaching your role as a gardener: When you are attempting to work with nature, is your role as gardener mostly apprentice, helper, partner, or boss?
In practice, maybe all of the above. But each one of us tends to favour a certain role. Do you know what yours is?
Three of the more interesting books that address your role as a gardener are:
Ruth Stout’s “No-Work Garden Book”
Ruth Stout wrote a series of articles for Organic Gardening, the magazine, starting in the early 1950s and continuing through the 1960s. Her thesis was that the garden would pretty much take care of itself if the soil was fed an abundance of organic material.
She advocated spreading a thick layer of organic material as a mulch over the entire surface of the garden. The material was simply allowed to remain on the surface and was not dug into the soil. She called it her “Year-round mulch method.”
She didn’t use any pesticides or commercial fertilizer. She simply moved the mulch back to expose a bit of soil for planting and then moved the mulch around the young plant after it had sprouted. She said it was less work than digging in the soil but, in truth, she mostly wanted to get out of the way of Mother Nature whom she considered as the better gardener.
Mike McGrath, the former Editor of Organic Gardening, said that the three most important things in gardening are: ‘soil improvement, soil improvement, and soil improvement’. Mike McGrath agrees with a lot of Ruth Stout’s approach.
(For more information see The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the Famous Year-Round Mulch Method)
Henry Mitchell’s “The Essential Earthman”
“Now the gardener is the one who has seen everything ruined so many times that (even as his pain increases with each loss) he comprehends – truly knows – that where there was a garden once, it can be again or where there never was, there yet can be a garden so that all who see it say, ‘Well, you have favourable conditions here. Everything grows for you’. Everything grows for everybody. Everything dies for everybody, too.”
“There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who ruin after ruin get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises.
It sounds very well to garden in a ‘natural way.’ You may see the natural way in any desert, any swamp, any leech-filled laurel hell. Defiance, on the other hand, is what makes a gardener.”
(For more information see Henry Mitchell on Gardening. Note: This is not a “how-to” book or a step-by-step guide. But if you want a book that gives you the “feel” of gardening, this one’s for you.)
Michael Pollan’s “Second Nature”
“The gardener doesn’t feel that by virtue of the fact that he changes nature that he is outside of it. He looks around and sees that human hopes and desires are by now part and parcel of the landscape.
The ‘environment’ is not, and has never been, a neutral, fixed backdrop; it is in fact alive, changing all the time in response to innumerable contingencies, one of these being the presence within it of the gardener. And that presence is neither inherently good nor bad”
“Because of his experience, the gardener is not likely to conclude from the fact that some intervention in nature is unavoidable, therefore ‘anything goes.’
This is precisely where his skill and interest lie: in determining what does and does not go in a particular place. How much is too much? What suits this land? How can we get what we want here while nature goes about getting what she wants? He has no doubt that good answers to these questions can be found.”
“It does seem that we do best in nature when we imitate her – when we learn to think like running water, or a carrot, an aphid, a pine forest, or a compost pile.”
(For more information see Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education. This brilliant book explores the alternative of working with nature respectfully to produce something that we intend. If you only read one gardening book in your life – read this one)
1. Reflect on the above. How do you see your “role as food gardener”. Are you going to be Mother Nature’s apprentice, helper, partner or boss? Share in a Reply below.
2. Take a look at the three books mentioned above. Pick one and add it to your Reading Wish List.