Readers of this blog may not know that the day-to-day version of me is not a fulltime plantsman. In reality, I sit behind a computer for a living and have for the better part of two decades. And while the geeks I run with are generally good and kind folks, it’d be fair to say that we don’t usually share the same passion for plants. Which is probably why I started this site in the first place – to reach out to people with a similar passion.
Yesterday I was in a business meeting when the subject of my many plants came up. I was bringing up my gardening as an example of a person using the web to self-publish, find community, and all that good stuff. But the guy I was speaking with derailed me completely with one simple question: “Why?”
He didn’t mean it to be challenging or anything. I was just revealing a little bit of a non-work passion, but he was really curious why I did what I do. The question hovered in the air for a long time. “Why?”
My mind went blank. It was so weird. My love of plants is so close to my core, so much a part of me, and yet I couldn’t answer his simple question. It was like asking me why I breathe – it’s an activity so central to my life, I never really saw it as optional.
Here’s where some people might talk about beauty. And I get that. Seriously, how could you look into the center of a Passiflora flower and not marvel at the intricate beauty of the thing, just for a moment, without any deference to the science or its biological function. It’s just a pure expression of beauty.
But beauty is not why I garden. It’s a nice side-effect, sure, but it’s not the draw. I like plenty of plants that are ugly but please me in some way. And half my orchid collection looks like sad ass most of the time. So it must not be about beauty for me.
Some people talk about feeling a connectedness to nature when gardening, and I guess I feel that. I love learning about the relationships between plants, the environments they come from, and how they evolved to be what they are. Putting my hands in the soil makes me feel like just one piece of a living puzzle too giant to comprehend. I like that.
But that’s not really why for me, either. It’s a nice grandiose rationale, but it doesn’t feel like the right fit for me. Sometimes I feel that connectedness, sometimes I feel like my back hurts and I just want to be done.
There are lots of other reasons that almost fit for me: the desire to create a natural environment around myself, the joy of nurturing a living thing (which is nourishing in return), the surprise and delight that comes from plants that zig when you expect them to zag … all things I love about gardening, but still not the right answer to the “Why?” question for me.
I think it’s important to do things for no discernible reason. I could’t function without being excited about something. And it helps when that something isn’t work-related, it doesn’t really feed my ego, I’m not doing it to win awards or prove how great I am, and it’s something basically uncool. It’s just a thing that brings me joy for a reason I can’t really explain. Maybe not being able to explain it is how you know it’s a lifelong passion.
So, why? I go back to the first metaphor: It’s like asking someone why they breathe. And I give the same answer: Because if I didn’t, it’d die.