In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2012
Regional Report

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A garden is a wonderful place to learn and relax with friends.

What is a Garden?

Such a simple question, isn't it? Any child could tell you that a garden is a place where you grow stuff. I can't argue with that. But a garden is much, much more than a group of plants. A garden is both natural and unnatural. We take nature and arrange it in rows or swaths, draw a "line in the sand" where the grass can and can't grow, and choose which plants live side by side.

We orchestrate a symphony of vegetables, flowers, turf, shrubs, vines, trees, and a host of other plants, deciding what grows where and when. To continue the music analogy, we're constantly composing, recomposing -- and decomposing -- to create the beautiful results we desire. Having spent a lot of time out in the garden over the years, I've found that a garden is some other things as well as a place for plants.

A garden is a rejuvenating retreat. When I get out in the garden among vegetables, herbs, or flowers the cares of the day go away and I can enjoy restful moments of peace and quiet or creative calm. Even standing with a hose end sprayer in hand watering a bed of plants becomes a time to zone out and recharge the mental batteries. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way, "When I go into my garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands."

A garden is a place of wonder. From a distance a garden is two dimensional and rather static in many ways. Get up close and you enter a place teeming with life. There are insects of various kinds you've never noticed before, unusual and intricate form and patterns on a flower, and soil that is a mixture of minerals and decomposing organic matter that barely resembles its source. Turn over a spadeful and a new world appears. Kids need to see this. They love it!

A garden is a playground. Isn't it fun getting to build a garden, whether that is a newly designed bed or a new planting. The soil is our Etch-A-Sketch and we get to start over whenever we want. The drip irrigation is our tinker toys set to pop together and create a highway to take water where we would like it to go. Yes, there is work to be done, but in a garden it is more often play, puttering around here and there as we wish.

A garden is an art canvas. Our landscapes are a living canvas onto which we paint colors, hues, textures, and forms with plants. We don't all appreciate the same type of art. Likewise we can create our gardens according to what we find most appealing. We paint and we repaint, each season creating its own picture. Add some gardening decorations to add interest.

A garden is a learning classroom. I don't think I've ever spent a day in the garden that I didn't learn something new. Add in the time I spend talking with other people in their gardens and the learning increases. Bring children out into the garden along with one of the numerous gardening curricula available, and it becomes a place to learn botany, math, entomology, ecology, chemistry, nutrition science and much more.

A garden is an experimental laboratory. Gardeners are research scientists, constantly trying out theories, such as, "This is the best tomato!" or "Here's how to control that pest." Try out some new cultivars of vegetables or flowers this year. Experiment with another planting technique or approach to managing pests. Move a plant to a new location with more shade or sun to see if it performs better.

What can you add to the list of, "A garden is...? Leave a comment and let's hear from you!

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