When people ask me what I do for a living, I struggle to find an answer. If I say I’m a gardener, I get one of two responses: “Oh that’s cute” or I watch in terror as a I shrink in their eyes into the “menial” class.
Sometimes I say I work on climate change and agriculture, other times I just say “sustainability consultant.” These sounds appropriately official, though neither feels good on me.
I like the term gardener because it implies a meaning that no other term does: caring. A gardener has a daily opportunity most of us now lack severely: the opportunity give care to plants, soil, birds, insects, animals, and people, and in turn receive care from them. Reciprocation. A rarity of our “on sale” society.
Caring can seem difficult these days.We are bombarded with messages to care. The Amazon, California, now Australia are on fire. Please care. The ocean is over-fished and acidic. Please care. Plastic is choking our rivers and sealife. Please care. The refugees need clothing, food, blankets, shelter. Please care. The politician are corrupt. Please care.
Send money. Send letters. Send food. Send.
Our care flows away from us, water drawn from an unreplenished aquifer.
What is left?
Little time, little energy, little inclination to care for our friends, our family,
Our care is not reciprocal, incomplete, un-whole.
In a garden, the direction of care is impossible to distinguish. Do you care for the lettuce or does the lettuce care for you? Gardening teaches us what a caring relationship is: a relationship of growth through mutual nourishment.
Why gardening? Why is it important? Because we need to care. It’s what makes us human. And when so much of our world can feel inhuman, gardening reminds us of who we are, what we enjoy, and why its beautiful.