Gardeners and Other People

The only two kinds there are.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY TIM FOLEY

There are gardeners, and then there are other people. The other people include those who just think they are gardeners, but they are not. While nongardeners may appreciate gardens, they do not have the passion (read: obsession) that we true gardeners do for our precious plot of land. The differences are very telling: real gardeners refer to their little piece of paradise as a garden; nongardeners call it a yard. Nongardeners also think landscaping is gardening. It is not. Nor is coming out of the house once a week to mow the lawn, fiddle with the automatic sprinkler system, or spray some weeds considered to be gardening. That is maintenance, people, not gardening.

I once tried to explain hardening off to a nongardener. She stared at me as if I was speaking Farsi.

If upon meeting a person, you want to know if she is a real gardener, just look at her hands. If her manicure is perfect, if her hands are smooth and soft, you can probably assume she is not a gardener. Though we do scrub our hands a lot, real gardeners always have little tell-tale scrapes, a ragged nail or two, and occasionally even some deeply embedded green stains from—gasp—pulling weeds without gloves.

We sometimes even appear in public with a stray leaf stuck to our hair. And at a certain age, even with sunscreen, we often have sunspots on our hands and arms. Some of us sport “farmer’s tans” (tanned to just above the elbow). We get more mosquito and ant bites than other people. In short, we present a distinctly more weathered appearance than nongardeners. It is the price we pay for the hours, weeks, months, yea, decades spent toiling in our gardens. In my previous life BG (before gardening), I had a corporate job. I wore suits and dresses, pantyhose, high heels and a determined look. Nowadays, I tend to wear shorts or jeans, cool loose shirts, and a floppy hat with a brim. I look a bit like a deflated balloon. But I wear the best thing of all—a smile—and have been known to hum or even talk to the birds while I work in my garden (I never hummed at my corporate job).

Once when a hard freeze threatened my gorgeous bearded irises that were already showing color, I collected all my husband’s old woolen socks and pulled them over the iris buds, thus protect-ing them from the cold. I had not counted on the reaction from my nongardening neighbors. I got a text from them with a picture of my sock-covered irises. (Did I mention they were in the front of the house for all to see?) Their only comment: “?????????”

Nongardeners will often plan their vacations around if there is a beach or good night life in a location. We gardeners often pick our vacation destinations based on what public or private gardens might be available for touring. And we often bring home seeds, cuttings, and lists of flowers or plants that we saw on our trip and want to try. (Normal, uh, I mean other people, don’t have bits of plant material spilling out of their luggage.)

We gardeners also tend to look at current events quite differently. While other people might worry about the state of the world, we are more concerned with the state of the weather and how it will affect our garden. How do we tell if the world’s going all to h___? If there’s water rationing, a late freeze, or an invasion of grasshoppers.

Nongardeners buy plants (if they buy any at all) just once—in the Spring, so they can plop them into the ground and promptly forget to water them. They almost always buy what’s in bloom at the time of their annual visit to the local box store. We gardeners flock to independent nurseries (and box stores—we’ll visit anywhere that has plants). We won’t go just once, either. Oh, no. It’s a good weekend when we don’t visit a place of plants.

We will buy baby perennials way too early to plant in our cold region because we know all about hardening off. We think nothing of hauling a bunch of plants home and then setting them out each day and bringing them in at night until they are truly ready to be planted. I once tried to explain the concept of hardening off to a nongardener. She stared at me as if I was speaking Farsi.

Gardeners are also optimists. We plant trees we may never see to maturity, we save seed, we plan for next year and the year after that. Faced with the mother of all hailstorms, we will just swig a strong one and then start planning how we will make the garden even better next time. We never give up. We are the very definition of hope.

In short, instead of all the various categories people put people into these days, there are really only two. There are gardeners, and there are other people. You know who you are.


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