Gardening is Therapy, Especially After 45 Years

After traveling to the four corners of the Earth and having many adventures, Candide, the hero of Voltaire’s novel, retires to a country house to pursue the pleasures of tending a garden.
A recent study commissioned by Organic Gardening magazine found that most serious gardeners are older than 45. The sprouting of gray hair indeed may sprout a desire to sprout seeds.
Perhaps it’s just that middle-age people are worn out from running around, spend more time at home or find gardening an interesting way to pass time. Or maybe it’s the last best antidote to stress.
So often you hear a person say, “Gardening is my therapy.” It’s certainly less expensive than psychiatry.
One of the most satisfying aspects of gardening is the relationship between the care and the results. Unlike people, who disappoint each other, plants usually give back in proportion to the time and effort lavished upon them. As someone once said, “The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.”
From the Organic Gardening study we learn that “gardening is now America’s No. 1 outdoor leisure-time activity, with 78.3 million U.S. adults participating – a 30 percent increase since 1992.” Some would question calling gardening “leisure,” considering the work and sweat involved. But in a culture that is increasingly bottom-line-oriented, any activity that is not based on making money seems to be considered leisure.
In the last few years, few folks have gotten richer, everyone has gotten older, and a lot more people have started to garden. Writing in The New York Times Book Review last month, Allen Lacy theorized that the same baby boomers who were jogging a decade ago are now gardening.
They include 66 million U.S. flower gardeners and 49 million vegetable gardeners. Many people garden both ways.
Flower gardening is more popular, no doubt, because flowers are easier to grow than vegetables. Plants with flowers on them are always available at the nursery, and many ornamentals flower their heads off without inordinate care. Most vegetables, on the other hand, absolutely require some soil preparation and attention after planting.
But the popularity of flower gardening is reason for optimism about the future of humankind. Ornamental horticulture is not necessary for human survival. In an age whose bywords are “lean and mean,” you might think flowers would be labeled an unaffordable luxury of an old-fashioned world.
Flower gardening is one of the last activities pursued for its own sake. Flower gardeners have no ulterior motive other than to bring more beauty into the world. But these people usually don’t get much press.
Recently, New York City’s master gardener passed away. His name was Fred Rosenstiel, and he devoted the last 40 years of his life to working in community gardens. Inheriting enough money to live on when his father died, Rosenstiel left his apartment at 8 a.m. and returned at midnight, working in several different community gardens each day. More than this, he planted flowers on any unpaved patch of dirt he found. He wore a beret and a tweed jacket, and was never without a shopping bag filled with gardening paraphernalia. He served as a consultant, free of charge, to many organizations.
Speaking to a friend, Rosenstiel once said, “Perhaps I would have had a more interesting career had I been forced to make a living. These are the ironies of life.” But how many of us who are “forced to make a living” pursuing “interesting careers” bring as much beauty to the world as he did?
At the same time, it is possible, without trepidation, to ask this question: How many people – if they won the lottery – would spend most of the day planting flowers? Judging from the research, lots of us would.
Tip: When planting trees, don’t be shy about leaving a large circle of mulch – at least 18 inches in diameter – around the trunk. Otherwise, if grass is allowed to grow too close, a lawn mower may bump into the trunk or a string trimmer (weedeater) may scar or girdle it. Trees damaged in this way, especially when young, sometimes go into decline and eventually die.

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