Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
top story

Gardening Etcetera: The nature of gardeners and giving

  • Updated
  • 0

There is a Buddhist fable about two monks sitting by a river. One sees a scorpion drowning in the water and carefully rescues it. Just as he is about to set it down on dry ground, the scorpion stings him. Nursing his wounded hand, the monk watches the scorpion fall into the river a second time. As before, the monk rescues the scorpion from the water only to be stung again. The other monk is watching this exchange and asks his brother why he would help the scorpion when he knows it’s in its nature to injure. To which the older and wiser monk responds, “But to help is in my nature.”

In general, gardeners are the most giving people I know. Not only do I see them season after season put time into their own plots, but also help beautify other more public spaces. Many teach classes to prospective gardeners too. It’s in a gardener’s nature to cultivate relationships with plants, soil, and people. I can’t count how many locals ask me annually to look at their yards and give my opinions on what to plant.

I know I’m not alone in receiving requests — many other gardeners get this ask. They’re only too happy to help as their time allows. And gardeners like to help each other as well. I’m personally so grateful for the several people who reached out to let me know about the redwoods around Flagstaff once they read the column about my love for those trees. This is just one example of their generous spirit.

But nature has two meanings for me in today’s piece. For, as it’s in a gardener’s nature to cultivate and share, they also understand the interconnectedness it takes to be a steward with nature. As Michael Pollan puts it in his book Second Nature, “Gardening [is] a subtle process of give and take with the landscape, a search for some middle ground between culture and nature.”

That middle ground, that elevated point of living, is the sweet spot for which gardeners strive. It involves the process of elimination, of weeding out the unwanted, accepting the heartstring of wildness already there, and rejoicing over the small successes of domestication. If we had too many victories, where would be the challenge? Where would be the great respect we gain about what nature can do without us?

Pollan also says, “The gardener learns nothing when his carrots thrive, unless that success is won against a background of prior disappointment. Outright success is dumb, disaster frequently eloquent.” For anyone who has tried to grow carrots in our spring winds, you understand this. Those seeds will never sprout into large and tasty roots unless you’ve learned through research or experimentation how to get them to do so.

Nature, for a gardener, is equally a teacher through trial and a giver by disposition. Disappointment is a constant companion, but success is the dinner guest who makes all the toil in the kitchen worth it.

Gardening can be a solitary endeavor. Sometimes it’s just you and the soil, the seed, and the sun. Maybe that’s what makes a gardener so giving? We spend time alone, waiting to see what the earth will give and, in turn, learn what we can give. We put in the hours to develop our craft then seek out opportunities for connectedness with both humus and human. It is both a search for community and a sacred communion when we take up with gardeners and gardening. Getting into the cultivation of plants helps see the good in the earth and in each other, regardless of our backgrounds or levels of knowledge.

Gardening is a unifier because everyone eats, enjoys the beauty of plants, and — I choose to believe — wants to improve their environment. As Pollan says, the person “who has planted a garden feels that he has done something for the good of the world.”

So this is the nature of gardeners: goodness learned because of nature.

Jackee Alston has been gardening and farming in the Flagstaff and Verde Valley since 2005 and 2015, respectively. She is the co-editor of the Gardening, Etc. column, a Coconino Master Gardener with Arizona Cooperative Extension, founder of the Grow Flagstaff! Seed Library, Development Specialist for the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, children’s author, and the mother of three remarkable humans. She honors those whose land she now calls home, including the Hohokam, Hopi, Western Apache, Pueblo, and Dine peoples.


* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News

Breaking News (FlagLive!)