After a few sweaty hours of toiling in the garden yesterday, my husband and I plopped ourselves on the hammock to take a break. As we were enjoying the cool evening breeze while swaying slowly, he asked me, ‘if someone who had no clue about gardening – hated the dirt, bugs and sweating – asked you why it’s important for everyone to grow things, what would you say?” To which I regurgitated the usual litany of responses: ‘it’s good for the planet, as they are basically CO2 scrubbers’, ‘You source your own organically grown food and flowers’, ‘… something about helping bee populations, without which we’d all begin to die in 3 months’[source], ‘working with dirt has proven to increase serotonin in the brain, one function of which is to make you happy’.
The conversation ended there, and we went back to work, but I never stopped thinking of this question. I realized that all the answers that I gave were responses that outlined why gardening is good for us, humans. They were all true, yes, but the selfishness of it bothered me, and made me feel awful.
This morning, while I was drinking coffee, I looked out onto the deck and saw this planter, overflowing with blooms. There was a tiny bird that was tugging away at the coir liner, taking a mouthful of fibers to build its nest somewhere. Instantly, I remembered the question. And this time, I knew the answer.
Exactly one year ago, when we had moved into the house, and the birds were ‘stealing’ from this liner, I found myself getting angry. Angry that they were stealing something I paid for. Damaging something that wasn’t rightfully theirs. I even remember running out and shooing them away. Fast forward one year today, and now, when I see one of them pinching a piece of the coir liner, it makes my heart swell with joy.
That is what gardening does to you. It makes you a part of the outside world. I have built my home in their land, so what is mine, is also theirs by Nature’s Law. When I am given a chance to give back a piece of what I have taken, I do so with joy. I fill the bird feeders. I wash the bird bath and keep it clean so they can drink and wash themselves, cool down in the hot summer afternoons, hotter now more than ever because of how we’ve affected the world’s climate. When I pluck berries, I make sure to intentionally spill a few so nature’s scavengers may get a taste of the bounty.
I plant things I know the birds and bees will enjoy. I was at the store picking out wildflower seeds and there were three options: Cut flower mix, humming bird mix and bee mix. A year ago, I’d have swooped in on the cut flowers. Today, I picked the bee mix. Next time, I’ll get the humming bird kind. I also find that I don’t bring a lot of flowers indoors to fill my vases. Last summer, every room in my home was full of flowers and I kept refilling them. This year, I left the flowers where they belong – on the plants, for the bees. I take only what I need and leave the rest behind.
When I have a slug infestation, the frogs take care of them. When there’s aphids, I find lady bugs swoop in from somewhere to clear them out. I am paranoid of snakes and even though I have seen at least five in my garden in separate instances, and constantly have nightmares about it, I don’t try to trap or hurt them in any way, because deep down, I know that they too, have a role to play in the ecosystem, and that the owls I hear hooting at night will keep them in check. Nature always finds a balance. I am more empathetic today than I was a year ago, because I have been tutored in sweat and dirt.
Yes, there’s a lot to gain from gardening, but the real lesson I’ve learnt is sharing. I now feel duty bound to give as much as I get, if not more. I want to save green spaces around the world as if my life depended on it. And it does.
Why is it important for everyone to grow things, you ask?
Because it makes you human, the way we were always meant to be. And this concrete-and-glass world desperately needs it.
Want to be a gardener but don’t know how? Do you live in an apartment and don’t have the space? Are you too busy? What’s stopping you from growing something today? Let’s chat below.