We give our gardens thought,
toil, plants, mulches, water and fertilizers. In turn, our gardens give
us color (both floral and winged), nourishment, sanctuary and answers. The exchange,
however, is by no means even. Gardens return far more than we give them.
That dividend is not just
the bountiful products of photosynthesis. Nor is it fully accounted for
by the value added to our homesteads. Its measure is not monetary.
Our gardens keep us human. Our ancestors, both sanguineal and evolutionary,
lived and died surrounded by nature. Our brains enlarged and our posture
became erect as we interacted with plants, animals and the rest of that
Some say our survival no
longer depends on knowledge or an awareness of nature. The older I grow
and the more I see, inform me otherwise. Some humans living away from nature,
or its modern surrogate, the garden, have turned into creatures that I fear.
Theirs are the shadows that
haunt a darkened alley. They are the ones who wantonly discharge firearms
into the bedrooms of children. They would commit murder to steal a
If only they had seen a plant
emerge from a seed or nurtured a vine until it could feed them. The sweet
exhaustion of working dark and fragrant soil and taking pride in the subsequent
harvest builds character and provides hope.
Gardening makes us
forward-thinking and trains us to defer gratification. It shifts our
time-preference so we place greater value on future goods than on
equivalent present goods. Impulsivity, delinquency and criminality are
far more prevalent in those who are unable or unwilling to defer
gratification. Requiring immediate rewards is the root of much evil.
I have met in the so-called
Third World men whose annual monetary income could not entertain a brat
in a mall for one hour. They are not poor! They are able to feed their
family and generously share what they have with strangers. They are neither
bored nor boring. They know so much and have a great sense of humor. In
spite of their apparent poverty, I have never felt threatened while in
the company of peasants or campesinos.
I am jealous of their simplicity,
but have grown too soft to live among them. I admire their honesty and
curiosity and humanity. As sons of the earth, they could be no less.
A child who learns how to
grow a garden and appreciates its lessons and delights will never become
a delinquent. We are tied to nature and must re-establish those bonds for
each generation. Though I am ignorant of the precise neural mechanisms
involved, I am so very certain that we retain our humanness only if we
work and play in gardens, either natural or man-made.