It’s the beginning of not just a new year, but a new decade too, and such moments can bring on episodes of deep reflection. Here at the Tree Center we focus on the practical – how to choose from among that vast array of trees and shrubs out there, how to plan, and how to plant. The emphasis is on ‘How’, and yet we rarely ask, ‘Why?’ Why are we out here in the mud, dirt and often the rain too, planting, trimming and growing away? Despite the lure of technology, gardening remains America’s number one hobby, and the numbers are (pardon the pun) growing. There must be some good reasons why so many people want to get outdoors in the dirt, so let’s ask the question, ‘Why Garden?’
Among millennials, the big thing is growing food. Perhaps it’s a revival of the pioneer spirit, a concern with chemicals used in commercial farming, or a desire by city dwellers to reconnect with nature, but it is growing something you can eat that is the big draw for younger people. It could be a window box on a small apartment, gro-lights in the kitchen, or a full vegetable garden outside, but being able to eat your own produce really turns young gardeners on. While the first thought might be a row of lettuce, fruit trees are another way to go that is more durable, and it can be hugely rewarding. Not only can you eat fruit fresh from the tree, secure in exactly how it has been grown – because you did it – but in the kitchen baking and preserves will use up the rest of your crop, and store that goodness for winter. Home preserves was a big part of pioneer life, before grocery stores and freezers, and if you grow fruit you can revive all that.
Trees like apples, pears or peaches usually need a bigger garden, but there are lots of things – blueberries and figs for example – that will grow in pots and produce a good crop. The big world of citrus fruits allows you to grow fruit indoors too, with some time on a balcony or patio in the summer, and berry fruits can be grown among flowers, and don’t take up a lot of room. You can choose your crop to match your individual situation, but fruit growing is definitely a sweet reason to garden.
For Its Dollar Value
Most homes come with a piece of land, which could be anything from a tiny urban courtyard to an acre of yard. An attractive garden adds significantly to the value of your property. Estimates vary between 5% and 15% of the property’s value, so on a $250,000 home that translates into a justification to spend up to $40,000 landscaping. Even if you take the lower figure, that is still $12,500 – a nice pot of cash for hedges, trees and bushes around your home. Lenders will often advance the money against that rise in value, adding just a few dollars to mortgage payments.
Once those basics are added to a new property, it is amazing how many people start to get interested when they see those trees growing and blooming, and before you know it more plants are going in and a real garden starts to grow.
For Its Beauty
For most people it is the beauty of a garden that attracts, and has them out with the spade. The beauty of flowers – both their form and color – is surely the basis for the beauty we see in everything else, and an inspiration for designers of everything from clothing to furniture, and even houses. Think of how many colors have flower names, from cornflower blue and violet, to rose red and that magnolia paint on the bedroom walls. We associate color first with flowers, and for early humans that would have been the only place colors were seen at all – the association is deep inside our skulls.
There is a deep longing in our hearts for that original Eden, even if you aren’t religious, that place where the trees are green, the air is sweet, the sun is warm, and everything is at peace. Creating a garden brings us closer to that perfect world, and there is lots of research on the positive psychological effects of spending time outdoors surrounding by natural things. Some people find that walking in woods or on hills but creating it right in your own backyard makes it instantly accessible.
For the Success of It
Mastering something, from the piano to fixing engines, gives us a great sense of personal worth. One of the big things that makes us human is our use of tools, and the satisfaction we get from using them is a powerful incentive for action. With so much work today taking place in virtual spaces, doing something real, that yields a result you can stand back at look at, has a strong draw. You get the instant gratification of developing the environment around you in a positive way (what better way to teach your kids to care for the environment than by planting a tree?), and the delayed gratification of seeing that initial work expand and literally blossom, which each year adding beauty, as your plants mature.
For the Knowing
Besides the practical skills of gardening, which are relatively easy to master, there is the knowledge of plants itself. Science can seem abstract and remote, but learning about plants – the different kinds, and how they grow – has a wonderful practicality and immediate value. You can bring out your inner nerd, learning all those Latin names, and every plant has a story to tell, from where it originally grew, its many possible human uses, and the tale of how each variety was found or created by some dedicated, patient breeder. Knowing a little about the plants you grow gives richness to your experience of them, just liking knowing something about the band makes it sound better to a fan.
It is sometimes surprising how much people love their plants. They can be surrogate children, and when they become sick, we fuss around them like they are one of the family. Caring is a basic human instinct, and we easily transfer it from children to pets and onto plants. While pros will quickly ditch a sick plant without a second glance, other people cling on to them, hoping they will recover, and sometimes they do, making it all worthwhile. Being surrounded by a garden can be like being with your family, and for many people it could be that basic urge that keeps them pulling on the boots and getting down to earth.