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1442a Walnut St. #80 Berkeley, CA 94709

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What are the 3 greatest payoffs of gardening?

I was scratching the back of my mind the other day to think about why I garden. I’m always teaching classes on organic gardening and the gloom and doom stuff about all of the poison and crap that is in most gardening products on the market today, and why as organic gardeners we need to be especially mindful of this. I was trying to segregate my mind from all of the facts, the truth, the stuff that I’ve learned over forty years and distill it down to: Why do I garden?


We all have reasons why we do things. Sometimes it’s because it’s all we know. Other times it’s because we have no choice. And then other times it’s because someone introduces us to something. That is the case for me with gardening. My grandmother, introduced me to the beautiful world of gardening. Being the eldest in my family, I named her Grammy… Grammy Hilliard. I think that’s a fine name for a grandma. What do you want from me? I think I was 3 or 4 years old when I coined her Grammy.


River Facing Grammy's Garden

Grammy taught me about gardening. Every summer she grew the most amazing tomatoes ever. She grew Jersey Giant’s, Earliana’s, Box Car Willie’s, Jersey Devils and Trucker’s Favorite’s just to name a few. She was always adding a variety here or there, but tomato season was a ritual for her. I remember going out into her plot off of the Great Egg Harbor River and digging into the red soil that she amended every year with broken down manure from the dairy down the way.



Yes, it was Gram, as I started calling her when I was a teenager who lit the fire in me about gardening and growing. All of us know that nothing tastes like a tomato that you’ve grown yourself, especially when you are 5 years old and can’t wait for that first harvest. I guess this leads me to the first payoff of gardening… PEACE.


There is nothing more peaceful than dropping a knee down on the soil and feeling the earth below. That connection that we get from touching the ground, putting our hands in the soil and having the leaves and flowers dance around us in an early summer breeze is a feeling that only a gardener knows, and one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Even as a teenager, I remember being the one at my house who would water the roses that were out in containers all over our Southern California garden. I would water each rose and study it to see how it was doing, were more buds coming on or was it finally giving up for the season? It kept me connected to life, to the earth, to the peace that I had found as a child.


The second payoff that keeps me gardening is a little different from what you’d expect from a gardening blog, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway… LOVE. I know that love is very subjective and means different things to everyone. But this is my blog, so love is staying! For me, love is twofold. It’s the passion that was ignited in me early on to garden, and once that candle was lit, I couldn’t not garden, but it’s also a feeling of immensity that wells up inside of me being in the garden. I begin to form a relationship with the plants and trees and flowers much like I do with people and animals. It becomes an extension of my family and my life that I have a huge connection to. I don’t like the camellia outside of my office window… I love her. I remember when Norma came home from the local Armstrong’s and said, “I have to take you to the nursery to show you something, and we have to go now before someone else takes her.”


She took my hand and led me into our beautiful local nursery and we swung back into the area where they keep their espaliered and trellised plants and flowers. There she was in all of her glory. Her structure was amazing. She was the perfect specimen. I fell in love with her at first sight. Which is exactly how I fell in love with Norma. Obviously, I love Norma in the deepest, most soulful way that I have ever loved, but as far as plant love goes… our camellia, the one Norma found and took me to, she is right up there at the top of my list of great plant loves!



My Camellia


By the way, we were so excited at our find, that we spent hours looking for the perfect container for her and boy did we ever find it! We found a huge white Romanesque pot that shows her off like the queen that she is. If this all sounds strange to you then I suggest much heavier doses of gardening or taking up skeet shooting! Which, by the way I love, but not as much as gardening!


Elvis Costello - What's so funny about Peace, Love and Understanding?

The last payoff that I get from gardening is… drumroll please… and no I am not going to do my version of “What’s so Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding” from Elvis Costello, which is an incredible song and one that I highly recommend blasting at volume 10 whenever you can! No, my last payoff of gardening is… HAPPINESS. I like doing things that make me happy and gardening is right up there on the top of my list.


One of things that I think is so great about gardening is that there are so many different things to be done in the garden from composting, to compost tea’ing, to planting, pruning, harvesting, cleaning and then doing it all over again. It’s never boring. There is always something happening in the garden, just as there is always something happening in nature, and after all, our gardens are nature, and that makes me happy. I love being in nature. It makes me happy. I get excited to eat a salad that we grew. That makes me happy. I have a real feeling of satisfaction when I top-dress the garden with 1/2” of finished, true organic compost knowing that I am feeding the soil. I am playing a part in the nature of my garden. And this… make me very happy!!!


I’m not scratching my head any longer. I’m looking over this piece and am feeling very satisfied with my answers as to why I garden and to these payoffs of gardening. The 3 payoffs that I’ve put forth are of course personal and might only mean something to me at the end of the day, but I can tell you this, gardening gang… gardening has given me hours and hours and hours of peace, love and happiness. Have fun in your garden today. God bless.


© Randy Ritchie 2019