Friday, December 18, 2009

Why I Garden (Essay Contest)

Mary Ann from Gardens of the Wild Wild West has put forth this essay contest  to encourage garden bloggers to tell each other (in 500 words or less) what motivates them to grow (kill, and grow again.) I, Jennifer, of the Puritan North, submit my entry:

I garden for many reasons, some fairly common and some a bit less considered. Although I grew up gardening and have given it at least some effort each spring of my adult life, I've only had true success over the past 3 years. Beforehand, I led a complicated life of a traveling 'art show artist,' selling my photography at juried festivals nationwide. This allowed me long van rides across the United States, deep in daydreams of growing my own vegetables in between stops at what I called the 'iceberg lettuce stores.' The lack of variety available across the country stunned me; was no one demanding fresh vegetables and um, flavor? My only consolation was to imagine that people who wanted more were simply growing it at home, and that if I wanted what they had, I needed to figure out how to garden in my van. Herbs, peppers, and some greens worked well in pots, as long as I could air them out in between trips at campgrounds. But during heat waves none of us were happy, and I had a bad habit of sleeping in parking lots where no one was allowed outside (house rules.) Something had to give.

I suppose it merits mentioning that throughout this adventure I also had a husband, entangled in his own traveling career. Our relationship has always been a real success, but our home life was becoming a bit unkempt. We acknowledged our failures and looked for a creative solution, which I insisted had to include growing some vegetables. Our first thought was to sell our house and move into the van full time with the peppers, herbs, and very wilted greens. Sometimes we can be so thick. In fact, this realization of stupidity in itself is the crux of why I garden; plants are the best lesson in 'keep it simple.'

I often look to plants when I'm trying to figure out a better way. As we renovate our house and try to make energy efficient decisions, plants have been a great lesson in solar energy. I think about them when I build things that need both stability and beauty. I appreciate what I'm able to learn when I realize that I alone am responsible for taking plants into an extended season; there are actions I can take that they will respond to, and those actions have parallels in my own life and work. These ideas may seem so small, but as an artist I can get really lost in the specifics of things without ever considering the bigger picture. Gardening makes me value simplicity above all else. No more gilding the lily. No more sleeping in parking lots, either. Now we grow a great deal of our own food, have a winter greenhouse, have planted a small orchard, and have a weekly food swap with friends. Now we grow plants just to watch them grow.

The contest is still open! Mary Ann is receiving entries until the Winter Solstice, 8:37 a.m. mountain time, December 21.


  1. Beautifully written story of your love of growing and travels. Funny I now think of moving into a van and traveling... after thirty years growing food etc. Travel and paint the country. Love your new (I think) header. Pretty amazing asparagus trees! Carol

  2. Carol, thank you - and I hope to see you on the road someday with your paintings! I'm sticking with the Artful Greens header; the asparagus is an example of the photos I once sold. Maybe I could figure out some captions around here... I thought blogging would be easy!

  3. Very enjoyable to read...thanks!

  4. Lovely to learn more about you. Might see if I can get an entry in before the deadline


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