What my love-hate relationship with gardening is teaching me about time (or trying to)

I belong to a community garden, and when I joined four years ago, I thought, what a glorious escape this will be for a city-dweller.

It hasn’t turned out that way.

I expected to love gardening. It’s one of America’s top-ten hobbies! My mom and my stepmom have beautiful gardens. My community-garden neighbors have lush and showy plots. My plot is OK-looking (thank heavens for California poppies that plant themselves and look festive), but I’m finding gardening to be mainly an exercise in things not going the way I wanted.

You could argue that this provides a perfect opportunity to engage with life as it is, rather than as I planned it. Whereupon I would have to smack you. Or at least lecture you sternly.

My biggest complaint is, sigh, the time that gardening takes. Tending to plants is supposed to be a welcome respite, when you happily get into flow with the rhythms of nature. “Just watering” leads to weeding leads to harvesting and before you know it, two relaxing hours have passed. Many gardeners embrace this phenomenon. But I begrudge it. I feel guilty about it. Kind of like web surfing—some good comes from it, but this is not what I was supposed to be doing.

On the plus side: growing my own blueberries and kale and arugula is cool. But but but: birds and bugs and, I fear, poachers, get to the crops before I do. Maddening.

A quick summary of Time Lessons from the Garden…

What I am NOT learning from gardening, though I expected to:

Nature and I are as one. O the celestial harmony!

In actual fact, nature and I are continually at odds over (a) oxalis, (b) that weed that starts out tiny and cute and then turns grassy and scatters seeds everywhere, (c) dandelions (a complex matter, since I can and do eat them), (d) snails (theoretically I could eat those too, oh ick), (e) earwigs, (f) the dreaded cabbage looper.

Things gardening has the potential to teach me, though it has yet to happen:

All things pass away. Beauty is but fleeting; so is ugliness. So much is beyond your control—don’t fight it. Stop trying for perfection, accept what you can do today and let that be enough. To everything its season.

Things I am actually learning from gardening:

Get. Out. Of. The. Damn. House.

Also: Two people working together can make more progress, and have more fun, than one person working alone. Especially when one of them knows what they’re doing. (Thanks, Mom.)


  1. Hi Janet,

    There is always something in your posts that makes me laugh out loud.

    I, too, have to set perfectionism and impatience aside to work in my “garden” (– a second story outdoor porch which I always seem to wish were neater. *smile*)

    Thanks for sharing your funny, sometimes admittedly flawed, perspective.


  2. Janet Bailey says:

    @Sarah – Glad you’re laughing! (Sigh)
    Your porch sounds lovely…

  3. Eileen says:

    “Nature and I are as one. O the celestial harmony!”

    LOL. This is what I keep hoping I will get out of gardening too, *every time* I attempt it. What I always *do* get is a bunch of (expensive) dead plantings and a dash of guilt and shame.

    Great lessons, thank you! 🙂

  4. Janet, it’s so true. The things we want gardening to be, and the things it turns out to be, are often so different!

    When my honey and I started gardening together it was a bit of a clash. The veggies weren’t so bad, but the flower garden, was rough. My OCD-like tendencies come out, and I want symmetry and complementary colors and planning. He wants to go to the nursery and buy a bunch of cool looking flowers and stick ’em in. There was compromise. And by compromise I mean I gritted my teeth, and we did it his way. I have to admit, the result was lovely!

    So, I too am learning things from gardening. And also like you, not the things I expected.

  5. leah says:

    great post. it made me smile! 🙂

  6. Silly me – I thought I was the only one who felt this way about gardening. As I was reading, I even caught myself feeling guilty for not loving it.

    Last spring I planted some tomato plants, chili peppers and strawberries.

    The chilis weren’t hot, the strawberries weren’t sweet and the tomatoes weren’t tasty!

    It was such a bust, I found myself not being able to stay motivated to care for them.

    So, yes, not so much Celestial Harmony between Nature and me, either.

  7. Janet Bailey says:

    @Eileen, @Victoria – Who knew there were so many quietly suffering gardeners out there?

    @Leah – Thanks for the smile.

    @Shannon – I know about the OCD-like tendencies. Nice to know the “compromise” turned out well.

  8. Kim Flodin says:

    Hey Janet,
    Great blog! Will be following it regularly. Congratulations! As a writer who focuses all too often on the pain in the process, I have found a blog to be freeing and fun. Hope you find that, too. In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying yours!

  9. anny says:

    Your comments somehow made me think of a person who thinks she wants a baby because babies are so cute. Gardens, like babies, are hard and sometimes painful WORK. Your pleasure in them does not come from expectation of a payoff at the end. It comes from the nuturing as things proceed, from the observation of small successes. And because a community garden is often some distance away (oh, to have the screaming baby there and not here)you must commit to it, you can’t enjoy it now and then throughout the day.

    Farmers’ markets are full of flowers and good food you can buy. Your perfect personal garden might more happily be a window or porch, or if space permits, a small patio, a table and chair, an awning or shade tree, and a few potted plants.

  10. Janet Bailey says:

    @Kim – Hey! Thanks for stopping by! I like your blog too, and its (non?)title.

    @Anny – Interesting analogy. And I’ve certainly considered leaving the produce-growing to the professionals. But then what would get me out of the house? 😉

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