I'm in Portland, Ore., along with more than 600 other people, at a meeting of the Garden Writers Association. We've been visiting gardens and nurseries and learning from experts. And I'll be telling you a lot about that when I return home (and download hundreds of photos). But a question that two speakers asked struck a chord with me and made me think.
"Why do you garden?" they asked. And why do your readers garden? I've interviewed a few hundred gardeners over the past 25 years or so, and they've told me that they love to grow plants for many different reasons.
Gardening relaxes some people. Such down-to-earth chores as digging in the dirt, pulling weeds, and dividing irises gives others a second burst of energy. Some people get into growing because they fall in love with a particular group of plants (orchids, roses, daylilies). A few are turned on to gardening by a friend or neighbor. Many want to beautify the land around their homes or in community plots.
A number of gardeners have told me that their hobby gives them a wonderful feeling of satisfaction because of the beauty created where there was none before or a summer's worth of chemical-free vegetables to feed the family.
And so many people have mentioned that they feel at peace in the garden -- they forget the world and its cares for a few hours.
Do these sound like the reasons why you started gardening -- or why you continue?
There's another frequent answer to the question, Why do you garden? Memories. Often, these are childhood memories -- maybe of a maiden aunt's dahlias, which seemed so huge and colorful to a 7-year-old. Or of a grandmother's moon vine, which would open after dark on sultry summer evenings while family and neighbors sat on the front porch and chatted.
Somewhat surprisingly, the memories don't even have to be pleasant to turn someone into a gardener. I can't count of the number of retired businessmen who told me that they grew up on a farm and couldn't wait to get away from such a hard way of life.
But what did they do the minute they left their successful business careers behind? Happily plant and tend a -- usually huge -- vegetable garden!
In my case, my mother had the proverbial green thumb. She could grow anything. She was the person to whom friends and acquaintances brought dying houseplants so she could nurse them back to robust health.
I honestly didn't pay too much attention -- except to the snake plants (Sansevieria, also known as mother-in-law's tongue). She had them all over the house, and I thought they were the ugliest plant ever.
It wasn't until I was married and living in an attic apartment in Germany that I understood about houseplants that could live in low light. I remembered Mom's Sansevieria, and, mentally shaking my head at my youthful condemnation, bought some.
When they thrived as Mom's had, I was hooked. Gardening was fun. And -- although this didn't occur to me at the time, but does very strongly now -- they were a connection to my roots.