There are a lot of ways of dealing with the pandemic: denial, fear, sourdough and gardening, to name a few. I’m delighted that gardening has proven to be one way that people have chosen to spend some time, because I firmly believe that digging in the dirt builds character.
A great deal of the satisfaction that we get from gardening is a result of the feeling of accomplishment and of being at home with nature that comes with working the soil, growing plants and harvesting them.
Gardening doesn’t require complex skills. It does require some skills and some dedication to caring for the soil, the seedlings and the adult plants. Competence in the garden might not translate into competence in every area of life, but it does reassure us that we can go part of the way toward sustaining ourselves.
One of the things I like best about gardening is other gardeners. As a group, gardeners seem to exemplify many virtues, not the least of which is generosity. It is hard to find a gardener not willing to share a cutting, a source for seeds, a bit of garden lore or information. In my front flowerbed alone I have iris from a man in town, daisies from my mother’s garden, purple verbena from a woman down the road and a gorgeous yellow bell I got from a man in West Texas through a seed exchange.
Gardening also celebrates biodiversity. We are realizing that even the most seemingly insignificant critter or plant can serve an important function and should be protected. Even the most peculiar have their place and deserve to be nurtured.
Finally, when we garden, we can’t leave behind our sense of humor. If gardening teaches us nothing else, it should teach us to laugh. Surprises, mistakes, accomplishments and disappointments all have their joyous side.
One of the reasons children are attracted to spending time in nature is that they can easily find things to play with there. I used to make "stew" from the long seed pods from my neighbor’s catalpa tree, hackberries and holly berries from our own yard and any other thing I found to add. Kids and adults have been making dolls from hollyhock flowers for centuries and blowing seeds from dandelions for probably ever.
Plants can be fun in a variety of ways: by playing with them, sharing them, building a sanctuary of vines to escape to or snacking on warm ripe tomatoes fresh from the plant.
One of my favorite garden tricks is to pluck a snapdragon from the plant, pinch it from behind to make its "mouth" open and close. Perhaps the beginning of ventriloquism? At any rate, try it next time you see a snapdragon. It’s fun, and it’s so silly, it almost always makes someone laugh.
Look at the pansies in the yard: They all have smiles on their faces.
Right now, there are a lot of things to worry about, but building confidence, sharing and lightening up can all help us find a better day ahead. Gardening can help with all those things.
Judy Barrett is the author of several gardening books, including "Easy Edibles" from Texas A&M Press.