Gardening’s Subtler Benefits

Less obvious reasons for this pastime’s popularity.

Posted May 10, 2020

pxhere, CC0, Public Domain
Source: pxhere, CC0, Public Domain

Previously, I summarized gardening’s well-known benefits: seeing the miracle of growth, it being good exercise, plus some gardening how-tos.

Here, I focus on gardening's more subtle benefits. They may be core to many people's motivation to garden and perhaps motivate you to take up or spend more time gardening, the world’s most popular pastime. That may be of particular utility now as we continue to be urged or mandated to stay home amid COVID. Note that the advice is relevant whether you have a garden, window box, or just want to grow indoor houseplants.

Here are those less obvious benefits:

Relative certitude. In a life filled with uncertainty, gardening’s relative certitude can be welcome. Per the song, Plant a Radish,  “Plant a radish, get a radish, never any doubt…They're dependable;  they're befriendable. They're the best pal a parent's ever known. While with children, it's bewilderin'. You don't know until the seed is nearly grown. just what you've sown.”

Each action you take is likely to yield improvement. The benefit could be visible immediately as in weeding or pruning, or later, as in the case of cultivar selection, soil preparation, or fertilizing.

A balance of judgment calls and clear rights-and-wrongs. The best games are mainly skill but some luck, like for example, Scrabble or poker. That's also true of gardening. For example, there are clearly superior and inferior varieties, for instance, the lavender rose Neptune rather than the now obsolete Sterling Silver. Yet your success with it depends on your microclimate, a given year’s weather, or whether it's attacked by some critter.

Easy opportunity for experimentation. It’s fun to experiment, and with gardening, you have unusual control. For example, you could compare two varieties, or one plant of a variety in sun, the other in semi-shade, one that’s watered once a week and another twice, one using a once-a-season time-release fertilizer, the other that requires application every six weeks.

The joy of a progressing field. When I started gardening decades ago, heirloom tomatoes were the fad. But even the most touted variety, Brandywine, produced just a few large pinkish tomatoes,  the plant was disease-prone and succeeded only in some climates. Now, I have such choices as Big Beef, which, nationwide, produces dozens of delicious big tomatoes on a healthy plant, and Orange Paruche  a multi-taste-test winning, healthy, prolific, orange-colored cherry tomato. The Internet makes it easy to find the best cultivars for a locale and preferences, and with a couple clicks, it’s at the door in days, a particular boon amid the stay-home urgings. When I started gardening, I had to water by hand. Now, drip irrigation controlled by an inexpensive timer enables my plants to be watered automatically on one or more of six schedules.

Plant hybridizers' and gardening equipment engineers' progress reminds me of the optimism I’ve derived over the decades from seeing computers go from the room-sized monster I needed for my dissertation to my iPhone SE today, which for under $100 (refurb) puts internet, email, thousands of songs, movies, and wireless phone—in my pocket.

The takeaway

Even if you live in an apartment and are limited to indoor plants, gardening can offer unusual comfort and pleasure, something we all could use amid the Stay-the-Hell-Home edicts.

I read this aloud on YouTube.