The unjoy of gardening
My mother, peace be upon her, was a gardener. When she and my father retired and moved down to a house on the property my husband and I bought, the two acres of land around the old house filled her with joy. She shaped it, debated which kind of raspberries were better for our area, tried artichokes (not a success–too many bugs down in the thistles) and a dozen kinds of winter squashes (Red Kuri was her favorite, or maybe Sweetmeat, hard to decide) and often the first thing youâ€™d hear in the morning would be the skritch skritch of her hoe in the dawn. When she died, we found that sheâ€™d kept her detailed journal of everything sheâ€™d done in that house, fifteen years of trial and error, and success. In a house we moved out of ten years before. The loved the process, she loved the labor, she found it all meditative and immensely satisfying.
I would help her. Reluctantly, when muscle was needed. I learned the basics of how to keep plants alive and bearing, and can tell you the details of gopher wire and soil amendments. But as soon as something else came up, the garden would languish, the weeds would appear, and the more vulnerable plants would turn up their roots to the heavens.
She would tell me that gardening was a thing for older people, that with small kids, no wonder I turned around and found the perennial bed buried under blackberries. That Iâ€™d come to like gardening, really I would. Like Vita Sackville-West, I suppose, for whom writing came decidedly second.
Okay, Iâ€™m about to turn 55, and I still hate gardening. I pull weeds and curse, I hunt gophers and I swear, I buy plants and forget about them until theyâ€™re withered brown stumps in a pot. I like looking out the window and seeing fuchsias blooming instead of poison oak, but if I could find someone who would do it, and do it right, without costing me an arm and a leg, Iâ€™d drop my trowel in a minute.
One of the things that pleased her most in her final daysâ€”literally, in the hospitalâ€”was the knowledge that she had a granddaughter showing an interest in gardening. Maybe the genes skipped a generation.
But I pull weeds and I baby the lawn back to greenness and I hack holes in the earth for gopher wire baskets and new plants, because weâ€™re having a Big Party here the end of October, and we donâ€™t, after all, want to be actively ashamed of the surroundings. And people will say how nice it looks and exclaim when they find out I Did It All Myself and wonder how I have the time, and after the party Iâ€™ll turn my back on the thing and hope the automatic watering system keeps some of the plants alive.
Because in fact, I hate gardening.