Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bonding Over Gardening

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are both interested in gardening. They are not just interested in; they are obsessed with it. Although I am considering starting my own garden, I do not know that it will ever occupy my existence in the way that it does theirs. My disdain - and supposed inability - for growing things has become some cruel family joke. My mother-in-law will say, "let us do Julia's favorite thing - look at the garden" and laugh.

I just go somewhere else and read while everyone tours the same garden they toured last week.

The amazing part about the garden, though, is that my sister-in-law and mother-in-law do not get along otherwise. They like each other great. They are mother and daughter, but they are about as different as you can get. They do not agree on politics, decorum, or parenting, but gardening is a bonding experience for them.

When we traveled with my in-laws to see my sister-in-law at her house, she took us for the same tour of her garden! I went only because it was the first time I had been to her house, and I felt obligated. As I looked around her garden, I found this very odd bond between my mother-in-law and sister-in-law that I cannot share. The bond has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with gardening. Here are two women who could not agree on what sweater to buy if their lives depended on it, but they are oohing and aahing over the same flowers and discussing possible ways to improve some of the rebellious plants in the yard.

I would suspect that other people find that they feel the same way about gardening. They would discover that they, too, can bond with people over gardening.

I have wondered what it is about gardening that makes people able to bond. I have come up with a few ideas, and I hope that in my work with my new garden, I will discover that I am right and that gardening can help me to get to know other people and to share my gardening happiness with other people.

One reason that I believe gardening encourages people to bond is that it allows one to forget about the person. Who cares if you are the lousiest cook in the world if you can grow a beautiful rose? All of your flaws will be forgotten at least while others are looking into your abilities as a gardener.

Another possibility is that gardening is something that is universal. Although there may be some flowers that I find appealing and you do not, all gardeners can recognize the value of another gardener's work. Even if one gardener does not like a certain type of plant, he or she still can appreciate the work that went into growing the plant, which means that mutual respect is more likely in gardening.

Third, many gardeners report a spiritual renewal when they are in their gardens. Working with the soil and being part of the circle of life helps them feel wonderful and renewed, and this happiness starts to seep into other parts of their lives.

Another possibility is that gardening is an ancient art. People have gardened since the beginning of time; indeed, nurturing plants has fed people for millennia. That means that there is far more knowledge out there about gardening than one person can know. I may have heard about a special idea that allows asparagus to grow more easily. Or perhaps I saw an article the other day that made me think about why your pear tree is not blooming. Sharing that knowledge with the common goal of helping the garden to improve is a wonderful way to spend time together.

It is my sincere hope that other gardeners share the same sense of bonding that mother-in-law and sister-in-law do when they are gardening. I hope that other gardeners find that they can forget their problems and communicate, if only during a tour of the garden, with someone else. Try to spend some time with other gardeners and see if you enjoy the time because of your mutual hobby. Gardening can be spiritually and emotionally satisfying, and this phenomenon of garden bonding is but one of the ways.

By Julia Mercer

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