Are you a Process or a Payoff Gardener?

I was talking to a neighbor the other day. She isn't much of a gardener, by her own admission preferring to pay a service for landscape maintenance. I like her anyway, though, being the liberal that I am. Everyone's entitled to pass up the delights of gardening. Being misguided isn't a crime. She said something odd, though. She said she loved the "idea" of gardening, especially vegetable gardening.

From the time I started a squash plant in a Styrofoam cup for biology class, gardening hasn't been an "idea." It's been a hands-on enterprise with all the gladness and discomfort that implies. Sometimes it's been rewarding (think 20 oz. tomatoes in September with loads of bacon in the larder for BLTs) and other times it's been disappointing (think bright orange pumpkins decimated by squash bugs and nearly ripe cantaloupes pilfered by cagey squirrels).

Are You into Process or Payoff

Her remark started me thinking. There might be two broad types of folks when it comes to gardening and other crafty pursuits: the ones who are strictly in it for the payoff -- the end product, and the ones who embrace the process. That isn't to say "process" people don't finish what they start. It's just that the chaos, the threat of impending chaos and the inevitable cleanup as part of chaos abatement hold some measure of the magic. Maybe we're all part tidy patron waiting for the payoff -- and begrimed creative type fascinated with the maelstrom and determined to reach in and draw out something amazing.

I think the maelstrom is an integral part of the allure for me. You know, the piles of lime stained pots, the half empty bags of soil, soil amendments and pest control products, the stakes, strings, tarps, row covers, the pretty rocks and cracked crockery, the drifts of dead leaves, and the compost bin (or bag or box), that never looks as tidy as it's pictured in the catalog.

I admit that I used to worry a lot about the tidy end of things. The idea of having unlimited resources where someone else would do the grunt work and I could just admire the results was a regular daydream of mine. I don't think that's true anymore, though. I've spent too many years doing the dirty, sticky work. Somewhere along the line, I realized there's so much more to the process than manual labor and the final ta-dah! moment. There are the small things, the captivating observations and inevitable surprises. There are also the unexpected and almost holy interludes. At those times, the earth, the sky and my stubborn fingers seem to unite, creating a grace note in the day when the internal chatter stops and everything feels quiet and complete, even though my nails -- and probably my face and feet -- are dirty. It's alone time at its best: Sara the gardener in her fortress of solitude.

I think doing your own gardening is like making mud pies (remember, when you were a kid in the olden days); you gotta feel the squish between your fingers for it to be the real deal. Growing the best hydrangeas on the block is only half the fun. Producing them from your own DIY applied fish emulsion, the stinkier the better, makes those emerging pink buds sweet victory and not just sweet curb appeal.

From a Winter Garden

Today is biting cold for many of us, but spring is on the move. It will be turning the corner shortly. That's my message for the day. It's a good time in the garden, even if it's just the garden of the imagination. The real thing always meanders its way to the doorstep before the wind, snow and rain of winter become unbearable. We "process" folks can review our seed catalogs and take stock of our dwindled supplies. The rest can observe their winter shrouded gardens, waiting for nature, messy, (and pretty magnificent) nature, to roll up her sleeves as the days get longer.


  1. This is just beautiful. I especially love:

    the earth, the sky and my stubborn fingers seem to unite, creating a grace note in the day when the internal chatter stops and everything feels quiet and complete

    It is so poetic.

    1. Olga,

      Thanks so much. Have a great day.


  2. For vegetables, I'm a reformed process gardener. After years of yielding not much, I've ripped the veggie garden out as there was no good light anywhere in my yard. For the landscape, always a process girl which explains why plants are moved more often than furniture and I find it hard to resist propagating more plants than my half acre can hold.

    1. Catherine,

      I'm with you when it comes to propagating an over abundance of new plants. In spring, the house looks like a foundling home for the chlorophyll dependent.


  3. We do "it" every year. Work the soil, plant the seeds from the greenhouse, water, feed and wait. We love the process. The payoff is sharing with family, friends and neighbors. Couldn't be without it. Great post! gloria


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