Some people play golf, go swimming or hit concerts during the summer. I garden. It's my hobby, if a hobby can also be pragmatic. I'm no master gardener, but I have learned a few things while digging in the dirt over the past two decades, including insights into the world at large:
Natural selection. Growing several tomato cultivars — hearty Abe Lincolns, meaty Romas, prolific cherry tomatoes — ensures there are some for immediate eating, but also canning, drying, etc. to enjoy this winter. And if one plant underproduces, I can count on others to fill the tomato gap. Companion planting takes this abbreviated version of biodiversity a step further, grouping plants so each can be its best self. Marigolds help deter bugs, for example, while tall plants like corn get planted west of tender-leafed greens to provide welcome shade from afternoon sun. Intermittently blooming flowers might take up valuable food-growing space, but they attract essential pollinators all season. This global approach to gardening focuses more on interconnectedness and collaboration than on competition and conquest.
What you don't know can harm you. Beautiful foxglove creates towering spikes of elongated blooms and is a garden fave. Paradoxically, its leaves are toxic to animals and humans, yet also the source of digoxin (medicine) for heart patients. Should I kill foxglove? Build a wall around it? Relocate it so pollinators and I both still have access, but critters don't? Likewise, human behavior can be helpful and harmful simultaneously, yet we seem to want to view situations (and people) in terms of absolutes, in terms of "sides." Instead, an inclusive approach gathers relevant facts, considering different but equally valid perspectives, works toward sustainable solutions, and allows for the addition of new information as it becomes available.
There's no substitute for experience. Growing asparagus doesn't make me a farmer any more than posting photos of home-cooked meals makes me a chef. Gardening (and farming), like most things, takes effort and education. To shorten the learning curve, I rely on reputable sources, like books and fellow gardeners, including my friend who taught horticulture. But I still have to do the work, pay attention, learn from my mistakes and be willing to admit what I do not know, especially from season to season and during increasingly challenging weather patterns.
An exact science (not). Epsom salts will help magnesium deficiency in tomato plants, according to the internet, but the truth is more nuanced. Epsom salts might work in some situations but could also kill the plant. When we don't like the answer or want a magic cure, we Google it. We trust internet contributors who may or may not be well-informed (or are intentionally spreading misinformation), sometimes looking for answers that fit our pre-existing perspective. And we look askance at educators, calling them elites (ignoring the worrisome power struggles in our nation's education systems and throughout big tech to control access to information and the content itself). Science is not infallible; it evolves as new information becomes available, which can be frustrating and confusing. But it's not the evil some people make it out to be when they don't like the data.
I appreciate science, but it's only one part of gardening, which for me is more than a hobby. It's a place to explore and express creativity, art, even faith. And if I do it well, I get to reap — and share — the benefits of what I've sown, one delicious bite at a time. ♦