Gardening

Anticipating his tomatoes not making it to full maturity, Felder Rushing sometimes used a Sharpie pen to draw smiley faces on green tomatoes.

What motivates you to garden? Unconsciously, everything we do out there involves “why” and reveals a bit of our philosophy.

Physical and technical challenges aside, we also think and feel. And, like with everything worthwhile, putting our hearts and minds into gardening inevitably unleashes roller coasters of emotional responses and reactions.

Here’s the rub. Though everyone has an overlapping dollop of both, there are two main approaches: product-driven and process-savoring.

Goal-focused gardeners looking for Lawn of the Month, freezers filled with home-grown produce, windowsills of African violets, the first tomato or other hard-won accomplishments or accolades use everything at hand in search of efficiency.

Those who approach gardens this way research, plan ahead, keep mental to-do checklists and show immense dedication, attention to detail and follow-through. But they also savor the anticipation and suffer anxiety. When results are good, there is a feeling of accomplishment and pride in workmanship. Bad results, however, can lead to frustration, embarrassment, sadness, even depression or anger.

On the other hand, process-oriented gardeners delight in the everyday acts along the way, regardless of the destination. They fully appreciate sensory aspects — sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feels.

To them, the actual making of sun tea is more important than how it tastes compared with kitchen brewed. Every passing butterfly gives pause for celebration. They marvel at new spider webs, love the smell of burning leaves, don’t mind sticky fingers from eating warm tomatoes right from the vine.

I’m bent this way to the point where, anticipating my tomatoes not making it to full maturity I sometimes used a Sharpie pen to draw smiley faces on green tomatoes — which might be all I got, results wise, but for that day it was enough.

You can easily see all this in how people approach lawns. It goes beyond the regular maintenance of keeping lawns healthy and neat, or the little extra exercise and sunshine we can get every couple of weeks.

Whether happily or grudgingly, we mow partly according to how we were raised, from powerful family and social customs. As a kid, I wasn’t be allowed to go swimming until I had finished the lawn, so to this day I’m not a happy camper behind a mower. Dad’s motivation wasn’t mine.

Others mow, edge, and rake or blow leaves because, like making up the bed even when no one will see it, a finished lawn gives a feeling of satisfaction, of being able to look over shoulders for visual proof of something accomplished. Helps us feel like we have a grip on life.

Others mow because of social pressure, to fit in and get along with neighbors. In some neighborhoods, it’s a strict requirement. Even in the smallest village there are ways to make people keep their lawns mowed. In Jackson, you can be dragged to environmental court to explain yourself. If you don’t comply, the city will mow it for you — and fine you for the cost.

Whether due to physical or time constraints or simply not caring enough to do what’s required, lots of lawn lovers create smaller, easier-to-tend “throw rug” lawns or outsource the challenges by paying others to do the chores.

Or, like me in spite of my love of a well-tended lawn, I got rid of mine, choosing to stop setting up unnecessary challenges to overcome. And I no longer plant tomatoes, which I can find elsewhere, easier.

It isn’t that I don’t care for all that; it just matters less these days.

For me, occasional c’est la vie! aches of regret are easier to handle than a steady drumbeat of frustration.

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com.

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