The Soul of Gardening

Writers reflect on gardening as a catharsis and means of emotional support and rejuvenation.

| March/April 1990

Woman Gardening

Finding the soul of gardening is as hard as catching a butterfly on the wing, though some have tried.


Something more than food and flowers pulls us out into the garden each spring.

Something less tangible, yet all the more real. What could it be? The chance to touch nature? An excuse to play in the dirt? The annual opportunity to study the language of life? A feeling of faith, or perhaps one of prayer?

The more you try to examine the why of gardening, to pin down its wings and peer at its glittery markings, the more quickly it flutters just out of reach. Finally, you realize that there is no "soul of gardening," no one part like a thorax or an antenna you can hold in your hand. The very concept is forever multiple and elusive.

And just then, when you give up all hope of rational analysis, you also realize how fulfilling and fun the chase itself is. Indeed, when you quit trying to get one answer, you begin to fully enjoy all of them—and all the mental meanderings they entail.

Perhaps no season stirs the gardening soul to expression more than spring, after the opportunity to putter with plants has lain low for months, locked in winter inertia.

Charles Dudley Warner put it this way some 120 years ago:

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