Why Plant A Garden? by Jane Keown

This has been a winter of snow and cold and sickness. Kris and I have lost two good friends who were very little older than we and neither of whom had been sick. I have played the organ at four funerals at the church since Christmas. Another of our good friends, whose children are about the same age as ours, has been in the hospital at death's door for four weeks and the doctors still don't know what is wrong with her. We don't know how the plants are faring because the snow cover has been perpetual since early January. Ambient temperatures are at least ten degrees below normal, with no end in sight. What a winter!

But life goes on. The sunlight increases slightly every day, and before very long the temperatures will increase with it. On March first, I saw my first buzzard swooping over a snow-covered field, and on the seventh, I spotted the Great Blue Heron flying high over my house for the first time this year. Spring is definitely on the way, even if winter has not yet been totally vanquished. 
Yesterday I received word from a supplier that seven boxes of plant material would be arriving in the late afternoon. For me, that is the word that winter is over and the spring work is about to begin. Geraniums will be planted in 4 " pots, herbs will be put into 3 " pots, and work will begin on the 500 or so hanging baskets I plan to concoct this season. The one greenhouse we kept heated is already full of my large scented geranium collection, as well as a number of rosemary plants we kept growing over the winter. Our lemon tree and orange tree are both healthy and blooming, so the greenhouse is filled with such a plethora of fragrance that it almost overwhelms the senses. With so much plant material arriving at one time, we will have to fire up one of the large houses to begin the growing period for the newly-potted plants. Then we will have to figure out a way to keep the hoses from freezing so we can water everything daily. The period of relative leisure that winter affords us is about to end. 
We prepare an awful lot of plants for our own use. Each year we plant roughly three acres of cutting flowers and about sixty acres of vegetables. But we grow many plants to sell here at the farm to our neighbors who plant gardens. I expect to grow the standard bedding plants as well as vegetables, herbs and perennials for sale at the stand and the various farmer markets we attend in the Boston area. Before long, one person will be spending nearly all day just keeping the plants watered! We plant because we are farmers, and growing crops is how we make our livelihood. But there are a variety of reasons why those who are not professional growers take the time and effort to have a garden. For just a moment, I would like to discuss just what it is that makes a person plant a garden. 
First of all, a vegetable garden is grown to provide fresh produce for the household at a reasonable price. While there is effort involved in the cultivation, harvesting and preserving the vegetables, the rewards are both immediate and long-lasting. When I grew vegetables at my house [before we got into that type of growing on a large scale at the farm], I found the work of planting and cultivation was more than made up for by the rewards of harvesting beautiful vegetables in my own yard. I would cook and freeze quarts of tomato sauce for use during the winter, and I had control over the size of the squash and beans I picked, as well as which to eat for supper on a given night. It was tremendously gratifying for me, as well as being an educational tool for my children. As Martha Stewart would say, "A vegetable garden is a good thing." 
As for flowers, I always think of them as food for the soul. To see a beautifully landscaped and planted yard is to behold a work of living art. Very few people can totally botch growing a garden. While the labor of weeding and dead-heading can be arduous, when you sit back and look at the accomplishment, it is very gratifying. I also view it as a public service, since your garden can be admired by people driving or walking by your property, and I certainly enjoy seeing what my neighbors do to beautify the neighborhood. Working with the soil has been said to be good for arthritis, and as someone who suffers from that terrible disease, I can attest to the healing effects of potting and planting. My fingers never feel better than in the spring when I'm working in the potting shed! Planting a perennial garden shows you have an eye to the future, as it takes several years to establish a truly mature garden. Adding a spot of annual color that can be changed each year is more spontaneous, and keeps us from getting bored. Herb gardens have pleasures all their own, not the least of which is the marvelous fragrance they achieve. 
Whatever garden you think you might like, I fully endorse planting a garden this spring. To plant a garden is to say to the world, "I love you!" To plant a garden gives you a reason to get up every morning and go outside to see how you and nature together are creating a living, beautiful thing. To plant a garden is to show that you are one with the earth, that you understand the symbiotic relationship you share with nature, and to attempt to achieve a harmony of purpose with the cosmos. 
But I must be off the greenhouse now....it's time to initiate the process that will hopefully evolve into many beautiful gardens for me to admire in the summer. Let your winter dreams become fragrant blossoms and beautiful cuttings throughout the summer and forever after.