Seeking Gardening Success
In Pursuit of Solitude
Gardening tends to be a pretty solitary endeavour. That, in fact, is one of its greatest appeals for many (including me). It is a chance to be close to nature and alone with your own thoughts. Working the soil and tending flowers and crops is both soothing and powerful. It is not uncommon for me to get lost in my own contemplation and lose all track of time. Many a day, I head out for a short list of tasks with the intent to spend an hour and, before I know it, have been out for the better part of a day, coming in only because my husband reminds me it is time for dinner.
Sometimes you want to celebrate the peace and beauty by sharing it with others, when you choose to invite others to enjoy a walk in your garden or tea under a blooming lilac. Other times you prefer the quiet haven for just your family and. of course, the various birds, animals and pollinators that share your habitat.
The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.– Alfred Austin
When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden. – Minnie Aumonier
Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. – May Sarton
There are advantages and exploration that happen when you plan and develop your garden with others. For one thing, you have someone that you can talk gardens with during the long days of winter when many will not understand your obsession with seed catalogues and garden layouts.
A few ideas for finding garden collaboration:
Make your garden a family affair
Involve family members of all ages in planning, planting and tending the garden. Discuss what will you grow and where. You might make a food garden where everyone has a say in the chosen crops. There will probably be one person who is the main gardener but each family member can be responsible for one allotted plot or container.
Some family members might prefer a herb garden, or floral border, or a butterfly garden. Maybe Dad wants to concentrate on delicate roses while Mom would love a nook with a garden bench to sit and read or sketch surrounded by beautiful colours and soothing floral scents like lilac and lavender.
Partner with friends
Connecting with friends who have similar interests gives you a sounding board for challenges as well as someone who will help you celebrate your successes. You can exchange seeds, compare notes on varieties, combine orders.
My own group of 3 friends initially joined forces to save costs of seeds and supplies. We all focus mainly on vegetable gardens, although each of us is expand our flower beds with more native plants in support of pollinators. We have also incorporated a work-trade agreement when we plan work parties at each other’s houses to complete larger garden projects that require extra hands. Our seed experimentation has been an incentive to do better documentation and try different things and our seed exchange is also the reason that this season I ended up with 8 different varieties of squash and 19 of tomatoes. I don’t have for all the seedlings I had so was able to give away 22 thriving tomato plants at the beginning of the season.
Join a garden club
Most communities have a garden club, which may be formal or informal. In larger communities, you can usually find a variety of small clubs with a particular focus like show flowers, vegetable gardens or rock gardens.
Clubs typically have presentations, a resource library and opportunities to learn from other members. There are often garden tours, plant sales and seed exchanges. Many also do see or plant orders together to take advantage of discounts or reduced shipping charges.
As enjoyable as collaboration is to support learning in the garden, there can also be a lot of fun (and motivation) arising from a little healthy garden competition
Competition can be found in any of the same sources as collaboration. Friends or family will often throw down the proverbial gauntlet for a fun comparison of highest production, or biggest pumpkin, or the tallest sunflower. Garden clubs often offer prices or incentives in a number of categories.
Garden competition might also come from unexpected places. For example, at the June meeting of our Woodworkers Guild one member’s show and tell of extra tall tomato cages came with a challenge that he might have the tallest tomatoes of the group this summer. As it happens, we have a number of dedicated gardeners, even a couple of hobby farmers in our group so those were fighting words. There has been an energetic exchange of communication on the garden progress all summer and expect there will be pictures shared at our first meeting next week.
Community associations often have friend competitions among neighbours. Months after we had moved into our home, I happened to be at the country store when there was a very heated discussion about revising the rules of the annual potato weigh-in because the most recent winner was new to the area and took the prize. There was a suspicion that he had brought the potato across a border. suspected of bringing potato with him across a border. To add insult to injury, it was, I was advised, the first time in the 30 years of the event that one of the members of two local families had not won. When the issue as finally settled and the committee members separated, I observed that it sounded like there must be a prize at stake. Turns out that there was more than family pride at stake – a trophy of a Mr. PotatoHead nailed to a board.
It doesn’t always take a big prize – or any prize at all – for a friendly [or not quite so friendly ] competition to help you up your gardening game.
Whether you engage in collaborative and/or competitive relationships, gather to celebrate the garden bounty AND the gift of connection.
There are many ways to share the joy. Here are some you might want to try:
- Organize a potluck communal garden and ask everyone to bring something that includes items from their harvest
- Gather to make soup from collected bounty – you can choose a recipe ahead of time and assign a supply list or make a ‘harvest soup’ from whatever arrives. This is a great activity for a community group like a youth group or after-school program where everyone helps – and gets to take home some tasty, healthy soup.
- Coordinate a harvest collection for a local food bank. Include copies of a favourite recipe to go along with vegetables, especially ones that might not be as familiar or popular
- Plan a moving feast, with each course at a different home where the host is responsible for an assigned part of the menu (e.g. soup, salad, appetizers, main course, dessert)
Share your stories of gardening collaboration, competition AND celebration.
All photos in this post by writer, M.E.O’Toole taken in West Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia (2021)