Why I Garden: I hate getting started, but dirty nails fit me, and the sight of new vegetables make me weep




Am I the only person moved to tears when those first vegetables come in?

For folks who long to grow their own food without all the fuss and fancy equipment, we bring you the gardening foibles of Bobbi Buchanan. She doesn’t have the wherewithal to hoe a straight row, let alone keep her garden neat and weeded. She’s an expert at nothing, which makes the fruits of her minor labors that much more inspiring for the rest of us. Welcome to The Lazy Gardener.

Chief Editor

When I was suffering a bout of clinical depression 11 years ago, my therapist suggested I take up gardening. I was on medical leave from work and needed something to occupy my time—something to distract me from my misery, a project that required exercise and got me outdoors. All these, my therapist said, were key factors in treating my mental illness.

So I set about growing vegetables. It was easy, at first. A prescription, a remedy. A mandate. I put every ounce of my energy into plowing, by hand, a space almost half the size of a football field, and I filled the rows with those vegetables our family liked best—green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, corn, potatoes, onions, pumpkin, watermelon, and cantaloupe—and herbs like basil, lemon balm, parsley, and oregano.

My therapist was smart. I was lucky to have found her. She zeroed in on my interests, the fact that I had a newfound love of environmental stewardship, influenced by the writings of Barbara Kingsolver and Wendell Berry. She knew from our sessions that my childhood fondness for nature had been rekindled, that I had fresh appreciation for my family’s efforts in self-sufficiency. Perhaps she even understood that part of my spiritual struggle had to do with the higher plane of consciousness on which I had begun to live my life.

That year, I didn’t need any motivation for putting my hands in the dirt. The smell and feel of the soil was as effective an anti-depressant as any oral medication.

The Lazy Gardener, just home from work, pops a beer and checks on the seedlings. I garden because obviously I love getting dirty.

But don’t get me wrong. In the years since, I have not been a highly motivated gardener. I moan over the prospect of starting seedlings or prepping the ground. In fact, this is why I started “The Lazy Gardener” column a few years back, to share—or should I say reveal?—my most private vegetable-growing secrets: that I’m a wimp when it comes to weeding; that I surrender at the first sign of aphids, blame the weather or the wildlife for my unsuccessful yields; that my garden would not be possible without someone else’s prodding. Last spring, my youngest granddaughter brought home a leggy cabbage seedling from school. This year my husband David tilled the dirt and brought me a five-gallon bucket of horse muck from the back field.

Not all of us can be those happy, fun-loving people who spend hours, days, weeks planning their rows, building raised beds, and fawning over their plants like they’re precious little babies. Some of us dread the physical labor involved. For me, it’s a lot like working out: I’m not happy until it’s over, and the endorphins start to flow.

With the garden, I get some sense of satisfaction when the planting is done. But the real reward is when those first vegetables come in, and I cup in my hands the most gorgeous greens, the cutest little cuke, the finest red tomato. What I feel at that moment always surprises me, and year after year, I am moved to tears.

Besides that, I garden because obviously I love getting dirty. The dirt of the earth holds such an allure for me. I have finally come to embrace that aspect of myself. I have finally learned to love the dirt that invariably I will have under my fingernails all summer long. I have a sharp eye for spotting the dirty nails of others. I share a special kinship with those folks, and I feel a profound sense of love for them.

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