Gardening enables us to get plenty of exercise without a gym membership — strength-building, weight-bearing, heart-pumping, balance-improving exercise. Efforts spent bending, pushing, pulling, lifting, hauling, reaching, walking all help to offset rewarding ice cream at the end of a full day. And, if we’re too tired to indulge, all the better! (Although Kevin can dig deeper than “Survivor” contestants to find the energy required for a chocolate cone.)
Studying plants for signs of stress or horticultural contentment forces us to be cognizant of temperatures, precipitation and wind. We’re keenly aware if our charges are in need of rain, or if it’s too cold for pollinators, or if unseasonal warmth kicked plants out of dormancy too soon. We’ve learned when certain plants are blooming early, or late. We can even tell when conditions are ideal for weeding or spraying or pruning — which is especially frustrating if family or work demands keep us from taking advantage of the opportunity.
All that observation has broadened our knowledge of the microclimates around our half-acre property. Some areas are perfect for drought-tolerant perennial companion herbs; others for sowing temperamental seeds. If we want thirsty vegetables to thrive where the sun bakes all day, it’s best to mulch heavily here. If root vegetables need deep, soft soil, they’re better off over there.
It’s satisfying to draw on these past experiences — when we succeed. It’s equally disheartening when we don’t.
But, ultimately, what drives us, is the quality and variety of foods our garden allows us to grow and eat. Unlike commercially produced fruits, berries and vegetables, that must be able to thrive in a monocultured environment, be strong enough to be picked en masse, and be sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of transport, ours can be tender and persnickety. In many cases, that translates into excellent flavor — as long as we consume or process the harvest immediately.
Gardening also inspires us to expand our palates. Who knew mizuna was edible, much less a refreshing, sprightly green? Or, the smell of black currants could conjure a yen for luscious jam on toast? That beets, which once Kevin eschewed, pair well with a roast chicken dinner? Or, that rhubarb can be juiced?
Each of these, and many more, have become standard fare on our table — testament to the continuing rewards of gardening.