In the Beginning, a Seed

Photo by Gayla Trail

This is the first package of seeds I have purchased for the 2008 growing season. Of course I have acquired other seeds via trades but this was the first I bought. It has a decidedly Canadian sounding name, no? It makes sense given that the plant heralds from Beverlodge Research Center in Alberta. I bought it because one of my longterm goals is to try as many tomato varieties as possible to determine which varieties are the best for container gardeners. My criteria for judging ranges from how they fair and yield in smallish containers to taste and attractiveness.

People often ask me about my own gardens and I often feel I have to explain that despite the fact that I am an artist, they are not really self-expressive or artistic gardens but have become experimental spaces. In some ways they aren’t really mine to do as I please but where I try out different plants, varieties and techniques so I can learn as much as possible within each growing season.

From ages 13-18 I was determinedly set on an educational path towards becoming some sort of scientist. By age 18 I was starting to question that choice as I also had a deep longing to make art and interests in other areas (i.e cultural theory and other humanities subjects). Everything changed one evening when I looked around my grade 13 Chemistry night school classroom and had the sudden, clear realization that while I liked the gadgets and the experimentation I was not at all cut out for a life in science. The reason why I am telling you that bit of history about myself is to explain that forgoing the personal choice for experimentation is not exactly a hardship. I enjoy it equally to self-expression.

In that sense I think I am drawn into gardening through a range of interests. I like the physicality of it, of using my muscles and interacting with soil and plants. I like it as a creative outlet, making beautiful spaces with plants and junk. Which leads to my life-long appreciation for making something out of nothing. Sure we can’t garden with literally nothing, this isn’t magic after all. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the “stuff” we think we need, but in the end we can do a lot with just a handful of seeds and somewhere to put them. It is in that sense that I don’t understand why we focus on depicting gardening as an expensive pursuit. People of all classes garden. Of course there are financial limitations (who owns space and has access to it, and resources that are both financial and in the form of leisure time) but I am just as amazed by the back alley tomato farm as I am by a high-faluting potager. Every garden is a place of wonder with so much to discover and learn from. That aspect of it connects me to my child brain, where my interest in the sciences was really more about uncovering and reveling in a sense of wonder and awe about nature. From that perspective the choices that led me to being so deeply entrenched in this pursuit were the right ones. It taps into several different sides of my brain and has pushed me in areas I didn’t realize needed pushing.

Gardening is a unique activity in that it can be approached from so many different angles. Every gardener has their own personal reasons for being drawn to it and for sticking with it throughout their lives.

So today’s post ends with a question for you. Why are you drawn to gardening? How does it tap into your interests?

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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19 thoughts on “In the Beginning, a Seed

  1. I grew up with gardening. My mother filled many weekends with trips to nurseries with her mother and sisters. I went along since, being an only child, it was a little lonely to stay home. I always found these trips boring and unnecessary, but enjoyed spending time with my family of women.
    Two years ago, I bought my first home and discovered, much to my terror, that the back “patch” down the stairs from my condominium, is the responsibility of the owner of unit 5, that’s me. I say terror because despite all of my exposure, I was certain that 1. I would not know where to start, and 2. I would hate every second, and 3. it would be a disaster.
    I was wrong about two of those things. I absorbed more than I thought over the years so it isn’t a disaster and, miracle of all miracles: I love every second and would generally rather work on my patch than do anything else in life.
    As for knowing where to start, that took some help. The waist high weeds had me running for cover. So, I went to the best resource I know: my girly family (girls although not so girly, more burly.)
    My mother laughs (to herself and sometimes directly at me) at what a geek I’ve become about my plants. I couldn’t wait to get started this year so much so that a few sunny days had me out there pulling the weeds. It’s good to have dirty fingernails again.

  2. I fight with gardening; the only thing about it that comes easily to me is frustration. :-) However, I’m not satisfied with the produce choices available in the local markets (they’re either expensive or inedible, and sometimes both), so I opt to grow a few of my own veggies every year. It’s worth the trouble to get a really good tomato or pepper. This year I’ve resolved to be patient and diligent and use or freeze everything my plants produce right away, so I’m not feeling remorse over the September pepper that rotted in the fruit bowl come January.

  3. Funny, I’ve been reading your blog for a year or so now and never really realized that you are an artist. That must have been what made your approach stand out to me, being a fellow artist/science loving, renter-type gardener myself…
    But my point is, aren’t artists really just a different kind of scientist? Artists ‘experiment’, ‘research’ and ‘discover’ too, though, I suppose not as methodically as a true “scientist.” And those are prime skills to have in a garden.

  4. This question is the same as asking me, “Why do you breathe?” Because I have to, that’s why I garden.

    Some of it has to do with the fact that gardening is cheaper than therapy. My boyfriend calls it Dirt Therapy.

    Most of the reason I garden is because it’s magic. How can a tiny tomato seed grow into a massive plant and produce delicious tomatoes to eat? One word: Magic. I’m in awe of the magic.

    My parents gardened and my grandparents gardened and my great-grandparents gardened…I come by it honestly and proudly.

  5. I was just talking about this today! Mostly, it helps me remember that things have a rythym. That when things shrivel up and hide from the world, maybe that’s OK, and a giant-something-beautiful will emerge a few months later.

    And, that since I’m a living thing too, that maybe that whole natural rhythym thing applies to me as well. Which I forget because I’m so used to moderating my environment with artificial light/heat/whatever.

    Plus, it’s hecka neat.

  6. Shout outs to your site Gayla. It’s'awesome. I garden for a variety of reasons.

    1) To understand and have something in common with my “raised through the depression, lived on a farm, puts in a garden annually (regardless of being in her eighties),” Grandma. I find her tenacity kickin’.

    2) To generate curiosity. I’m a middle years teacher. My students and I have a small grow station where we grow bean plants and talk about plant cell generation in the fall. This year we grew wheatgrass and canola and discussed ancient methods of agriculture. In the spring we will participate in the “Tomatosphere Project” through the Canadian Space Agency. We grow two packets of tomato seeds. One that has been exposed to spacelike conditions and an ordinary one that serves as a control group. We guess which ones are the “space tomatoes” and have a pretty casual time just enjoying growing stuff…

    3) It helps connect me to my community – loads of neighbor gossip, funny banter and news gets spread while I spend time outside chatting with my friends.

  7. Oh dear. I wish I had not read your post and this question BEFORE starting my work-related writing this evening. All I need is another (welcome) distraction to keep me from writing about labeling regulations.

    A few reasons:
    1) It is one of the only activities in which I lose track of time and place,
    2) I feel at peace and connected with the earth,
    3) I experience true joy,
    4) I’m not an artist and can’t draw but I like to play with colour and pattern,
    5) I am a human terrier — stubborn about creating the equivalent of an in-the-ground kitchen garden on my balcony.

    This is not an exhaustive list, but a start.

    I enjoyed your story, Gayla. I come from a science background, too. One can appreciate the garden from so many aspects, it’s true.

    Great comments from everyone. So interesting.

  8. Gardening seems to come quite naturally to me, too, but I think the thing I love about it most is the fact that it’s all about process…growing a plant from a seed, nurturing it and watching it grow into a large, fruit-bearing plant seems like something of a miracle to me. Doing this with multiple plants on a grand scale is something that brings me much peace. I find tranquility in my garden, among my plants.

  9. Dear Gayla–
    I am new to your site and very much appreciate it…all of it, the substance of your writing, the beauty of the photography, the timeliness of the subject matter, the great advice. It’s very inviting. Thank you.

    I garden because gardening is in my genes. It goes as far back in my ancestry as anyone in my family knows about. But I also garden because it helps me know who I am and who I want to be. It helps me find my place in relation to things both larger and smaller than me. It makes me understand the deep and abiding connections among all living things. It exhausts me in a pleasing way. It brings beauty and joy and abundance into what is all too often an ugly, sad, and stingy world.

    I garden because I try to eat healthfully, seasonally, and as much as possible locally. I garden because I can get teary-eyed over personally grown, lovingly prepared, and gorgeously presented food. I could certainly go on and on.

    What a great question. Thanks!

  10. I am loving all of your answers! I can relate to it all too… the joy, the difficulty, the stubborness, the connectedness… I like that Lori expressed frustration too… we all do for sure but keep trying anyways for our own reasons.


  11. My mom is an excellent gardener and I was always intimidated by the idea of gardening. How could I possibly remember all of the things my mom already knew?! After moving from my parent’s house in the suburbs (my one and only home) to the city, I suddenly felt a huge disconnect from nature. Too much concrete, not enough greenery. Recently I’ve realized that it’s the personal interaction with nature that’s so exciting and rewarding, and that I am indeed a gardener at heart. We tend to forget that Nature isn’t some static thing that starts at the edge of the city…it’s everything living, including me and my little houseplants. I’ve rediscovered my connection. And I don’t have a yard, but I can still learn how to “speak plant” one lesson at a time.

  12. There is a picture of me at age 3 with my dad’s dad in his backyard in urban Atlanta. He’s showing me all his tomato plants. It’s a cute picture. He used to be a produce buyer/seller in Georgia in the 30s-60s and I wish I knew half of what he knew about growing good produce. Gardening skipped a generation, but I’d like to think part of it is genetic, from him.

    I love the smell of the dirt, I love how cold soil feels on my hands. I enjoy the magic, also, like someone else said. I love looking out my kitchen window at this glorious green patch bearing tomatoes and peppers and such. And it can turn into such a treasure hunt.

    I also love that I know how to do it, so that as the economy goes to hell I don’t have to spend so much money on food. And I prefer eating vegetables that taste like something, thank you very much.

  13. Gardening, more than most things, gives a me a sense of purpose, joy, and pride. I’m an artist, too, so making things just comes naturally to me. Of course, it’s still pretty cold,so right now all I can make is plans…

  14. My Father was an artist and my Mother was a gardener… Although my beat-up-old-car’s licence plate reads “ARTIST”, I only labelled myself as an “artist” long ago because I knew it would be a label that would not limit my life experiences. I can do anything anywhichway anyoldtime and explain it away with the excuse that I am an artist… This comes in really handy when I garden. If a neighbour looks out their window and sees me hunting the silently chomping earwigs on my Shasta Daisies at 3 AM, they can whisper to themselves “Crazy Artist”. Sure gardening involves the usual art cliches like “colour and form” but also, gardening provides me a neverending experimental interaction with the “magic” of nature… and physics… and math. When one of the plants change in any way, my inner-curious-artist says “I wonder what it is going to do next” and my inner-scientist-artist says “I noticed this happen last year at this time” and the inner-doctor-artist says “Quick! 10 milligrams of water for the roots, and put it in the shade!” …if a few maple seedlings succeed in growing a few years without getting noticed, upon discovery, I twist them together, each year, for a decade, until I have two small maple saplings that share a twisted trunk. Why not just pull them when you see them? My inner-gardener-artist would, for the ‘good’ of the garden, but my inner-sculptor-artist’s ‘idea’ overrides that urge. I built a beautiful stone wall one year, only to rip it down and make it into a pathway decades later… and sometimes things stay where they were originally planted. Like my greenhouse will. I am always talking about my new greenhouse, and right now, what with the freezing winter snow, it is really coming in handy. This morning, my inner-experimental-artist decided to see if I could get all of the snow to slide of the greenhouse roof at the same time. After some snow was removed from a few strategic stress spots, I heard a tiny “crack” and then a very silent swish as i jumped to the side. A sheet of snow 4 or 5 inches thick, twenty feet long and 8 feet wide flew past me. It hit the ground all at once and folded itself into a long, uniform pile about 4 feet away from the greenhouse… Now you know that any neighbours watching would say “Lookie Marge! That Crazy Artist almost got avalanched!”… if they came out to comment, my inner-winter-gardener would just reply matter-of-factly “My plants needed some light” …I could ramble on to all you wonderful YGGers, but I won’t… i think you know what I’m going on about anyway. Enjoy.

  15. Hey!
    I garden because I am too cheap to buy vegetables I can grow myself.
    I garden because I live in Winnipeg and when you have winters as cold and long as ours you find any excuse to be outside during our GLORIOUS (read: short) summers.
    I garden because it’s fun.

  16. You know, I always used to “hate” gardening b/c I killed all the poor plants I adopted. But it just took a little growing up & learning not to be so wrapped up in myself, to give a litte more attention to others… And my aunt assuring me that anyone can garden (it seemed so complicated!). I’m still a novice, but even helping ONE plant grow is just… cool! No other way to describe it. I garden because it’s so stinkin cool! :-)

  17. I’m drawn to gardening, more than anything, to connect my daughter to the cycles of life and get her understanding where food actually comes from.

    While my motivations are definitely educational, the bonus is fresh veggies and a Summer hanging out together, doing something that we can talk about,relate to and learn together.

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