Gardening connects us

Even those who don't know a petunia from a pansy feel a connection to plants and gardens.

Even when people don't consider themselves gardeners, or don't know much about plants, they still feel a connection to the earth. I thought about this yesterday as a seatmate and I chatted on a cross-country plane flight.

She was relandscaping the yard of the house she'd lived in for 30 years. She didn't know much about plants, but all of a sudden she recognized that her yard didn't look very good -- and she decided to do something about it. And not just tear out the foundation shrubs and replace them, but really do some gardening.

Right now she's working on an herb garden. It didn't sound as though she's a big user of herbs in cooking -- although I predict that will change once she has her herbs in place. But there was something about herbs that appealed to her -- their fragrance, their usefulness, their long and interesting history (there's that connection again!). And those pictures we all carry in our minds of gorgeous European knot gardens.

It was a pleasant way to while away a long flight, and I hope I helped by answering some of the questions she had (her herbs in pots hadn't grown so well). But it brought to mind another conversation I'd had in an airport a number of years ago.

I was in Austin, Texas, to write about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center not long after it had opened. My plane home was delayed, and as I sat in the airport, a young woman sitting next to me asked why I'd visited the city.

After I explained, she said, "When I was growing up, you saw wildflowers everywhere -- in fields, alongside the roads. But, you know, there don't seem to be so many anymore." She shook her head as she contemplated her two toddlers spending a life not knowing about bluebonnets that pop up and cover roadsides and fields, making everyone who sees them feel good.

Thanks to the former first lady and the center she founded, this woman's kids did not miss out on the joy of native plants.

And thanks to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the German government, and others, the people of Afghanistan now have more beauty in their lives. The 27-acre Babur's Garden in Kabul, dating to the 16th century, has been restored.

The project was a hard sell: Invest $5 million  in Afghanistan on something not war-related? (Or something, some may say, that's not "practical" or needs-based.)

Oh, but the people of Kabul might differ. They do think the restoration of  a necessity. And they are responding -- by visiting the garden in droves.

Whether we're in Afghanistan, Oregon, or Texas, gardens do connect all of us in a very basic way.

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