February 26th, 2007
Gardening is Work–Hard Work

Relax in the garden? Who has time for that?

I just came in to take a break from my gardening break. My indoor breaks usually involve a little surfing and over at Garden Rant a couple of entries lately have lamented the news that some Americans don’t garden because it’s work. Eeew! And dirty.

The 2 cents from some commenters is that gardens don’t have to be hard work. I don’t know what paradise they garden in but, honey, in Austin, Texas gardening is hard work. Hard, back-breaking work.

The twinge in my lower back today comes from turning the compost pile and moving half a dozen wheelbarrow loads of compost into the winter rose bed. I still haven’t finished last week’s project of putting Dillo Dirt around my large bushes and small trees even though AJM made it easier for me by helping me move a 22-liter bag next to each of the plants I wanted to fertilize. I thought that would take a day….so that chore is in overtime.

Let’s not forget th. 32 bags of Christmas tree mulch that I hauled from Zilker Park and spread over all my paths. And the still-to-be-blogged-about-when-it’s-finished front path project which involved me moving 3 tons of gravel a bit at a time because trying to put it in a wheelbarrow resulted in the wheelbarrow being too heavy to move. That damn project required all the levelling of the paths beforehand and laying down horticultural cloth so that the paths retained their shape and bindweed didn’t sprout through.

Speaking of chores I hate: pulling up bindweed and poison ivy and cutting back smilax and nandina; chopping out hackberry and chinaberry sproutlings.

Digging holes for new plants is also always a day-long struggle involving prizing out rocks and cutting out tree roots.

Then there’s just the normal boring stuff…not hard work but tedious, mindless stuff. I’m still cleaning up red oak leaves from all the beds and paths, hacking back English ivy, cutting back perennials, trying to get the trees pruned before they break dormancy, and watering. And then there’s always weeding.

All those chores take a back seat to the stuff I enjoy doing: transplanting seedlings and dividing bulbs and playing in the dirt. Fear of Soil? I’m not stricken with that phobia. I love gardening precisely because I like having my hands in the dirt. I never wear gloves. I get a thrill in squashing grubs with my bare hands. I love the feel and smell of rich, moist earth. Any veggies or flowers that result from my messing around in the dirt are a bonus. That’s why my garden is not a hot tour spot. It’s more for feeling than for looking at. You have to get down on your knees to appreciate it properly.

Do I ever just sit in the garden? enjoy a cup of tea? read a book? Nope. We bought a hammock years ago and an Adirondack chair. But I can’t sit down a second without seeing something that needs to be done.

I enjoy being in the garden, but relaxing it ain’t.

by M Sinclair Stevens

7 Responses to post “Gardening is Work–Hard Work”

  1. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    My broken fingernails, dirt-stained feet, and aching back are telling the same story, M. You garden for the love of gardening. Otherwise it just isn’t worth it.

  2. From Pam (South Carolina):

    I just finished turning over my vegetable garden bed with a pitchfork (gave up on tillers years ago) – hard work, yes – rewarding work. Always.

  3. From Gloria:

    You are so right that a garden can be hard work. I kind of like it. I have to take my time most days, in summer starting early and quitting by noon, in cold weather working mid-day on not awful days. Some times after being close to the earth I will stand and stretch and just look around,the heart and mind filled with something I cannot find words for.

    There is work I don’t care for. Painting, [yuck!] most house work, paying the bills…What has to be done for life to remain orderly. The Mr and I do sit in the garden. Read, watch the wildlfe,listen. I like to be out there at dawn alone but at dusk with a loved one. Many a task is put aside to sit and talk with whom ever has stopped by…

    I, too, think hard work is a good thing. It’s so satisfying! I’m lucky to have a schedule that allows me to work on the computer for a few hours in the morning, spend the early afternoon in the garden, and then go back to sitting staring at the computer screen. Both my mind and my body require being physically involved outdoors in order to remain focused. And, Gloria, I think you found the perfect words to describe it. Thanks for the comment. — mss

  4. From susan harris:

    You said it, sister!

  5. From KAT (California):

    Once again you are bucking the trend–see this LA Times article from a week or so ago: “The yard: so close, yet so far–Many families see their yard as essential, but they rarely use it, a UCLA study finds. There’s too much to do elsewhere.”

    I think that is the article that started the furor over at Garden Rant. The line that got everyone going was, “I avoid my backyard because it just looks like work to me.” Mine looks like work to me, too, but I need to touch the dirt to feel grounded. One difference between my housework and my garden work is that the garden is always changing, always full of surprises and things to explore. — mss

  6. From Angelina (Oregon):

    I don’t understand people’s obsession with avoiding hard work. Absolutely everything worth doing can throw your back out, make you tired beyond belief, and cover you in muck. I love this post. My garden will never make it in the tour circle either, which is fine by me. Most of the time it’s one big tangle. Like you, it’s more about getting in the dirt for me. I admit though, that the thought of crushing grubs with my bare hands makes me shudder. I never sit still in mine either. I’m happiest digging or pruning or planting.

  7. From firefly:

    *Now* I know what winter is for — it’s to make you forget what hard work it is to get out there and dig, dig, dig.

    Even the mud-stained gardening hat on top of the boot bench wasn’t enough to bring it back, but this post, hoo boy. The memory of a too-heavy wheelbarrow, bag after bag of mulch, and all those visits to the ‘recycling facility’ with bags of grass clods … shudder.

    (That reminds me, I have got to get a compost bin this year — !)