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Gardening and Politics, and How They Got Together

I’ve written about six drafts of this rant, and this is the one I’m using because it’s the closest I can come to explaining this, and because I promised Susan I’d have it done this week.  I hope I can explain this without sounding simplistic, preachy, judgmental, or otherwise like an ass. On the other hand, I’m almost thirty.  Maybe I’m getting too old to worry about trying to make everyone happy.  So, here goes.

Gardening has made me an environmentalist – an easy enough leap. I can’t put my hands into the soil without feeling a joy, a sense of home, that binds me to the earth in a way that I suspect only other truly infected gardeners could ever understand. I’m not willing to stand by and watch our beautiful planet be destroyed or otherwise whored by those who have regard for only their own welfare. Draining wetlands to put up yet another housing development of poorly constructed homes, pushing again and again to drill in the ANWR, refusing to join the rest of the world in fighting greenhouse emissions…mention just one of these things, among many, if you want to see me go off in a tirade. And, I pity my poor Senators. They’re so tired of hearing from me by now.

Okay, so gardener to environmentalist is easy. It’s the rest that’s hard to explain. I’ve always been a Democrat (good Detroit, Union Yes! type of a girl) but gardening made me a liberal. That sounds completely nuts, but it’s true. I attribute it to three things:

  • I have the unique joy of being able to work my ass off, destroy my knees, and kill my back…all because I want to. Further, I have the joy of doing it in my very own garden, in my very own ¼ of an acre, attached to, you guessed it, my very own house. I can spare money here and there (not a lot, but some!) to buy plants and other stuff that I don’t technically need. The food I grow is a hobby, and that’s all it ever needs to be. And, if I really overdo it in my garden and end up in the emergency room, my health care will be there to cover me. I’m living the American dream, and I’m grateful and humbled by it. But the American dream is becoming just that…a dream for many Americans. I can’t let the inequities of life outside my garden gate pass me by. I am unable to put the blinders on, and I cannot convince myself that someone else will take care of those who are being left behind. Until everyone around me has the ability to throw themselves wholeheartedly into something they love, with no worries….well…my computer, my heart and my vote are powerful tools.
  • Gardening forces me to look beyond my own immediate, selfish or unimportant desires. That tomato plant will not grow any faster than it damn well wants to, and there is nothing I can do about it. I’ll have to wait. That tree that’s been here for fifty years is really a pain in the ass, dropping branches all over the place and shading my lot. But if I cut it down, if I have the audacity to think that it’s my right to destroy something that benefits everyone and will most likely be here for a long time after I’ve left this house….well, then everybody loses. In the political sense, sure, I would love to not have my taxes raised again this year. That couple of hundred bucks sure would come in handy. But that couple hundred dollars to me equals a new high school to replace the crumbling old one. One easily outweighs the other. (Now those of you on Blogger that I’ve left comments for know why my photo is of a bleeding heart :-) )
  • Gardening has forced me to get over myself. Very little in this world is about me, or what I want, or what I think, or how I feel. So what if I think we haven’t had enough rain this month? So what if I want to grow sunflowers, but my lot is almost full shade? So what if I believe every damn one of my neighbors needs to stop spraying their lawn? No matter how strongly I feel about any of this, these are things that either aren’t under my control, or are perfectly within someone else’s right to do. Expand it out. Who am I to tell two consenting adults that they can’t get married? Who am I to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her own body? I believe that the people who spend so much time and energy trying to force others to live by their rules, by their beliefs, have too much time on their hands. Maybe they need a hobby. Might I suggest gardening?

So, there it is: how gardening has made me more political. It’s kind of a twisted, messy, convoluted explanation, but when you think about it, beliefs are never really easy to explain. It’s like trying to explain why you believe in God or not. Most of the time, the best you can do is "Uh, because." I hope I’ve done a little better than that here. Okay, rant over (thank whatever power is out there!)

And thanks for asking me, Susan!

Posted by on November 16, 2006 at 4:04 am, in the category Uncategorized.
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9 responses to “Gardening and Politics, and How They Got Together”

  1. firefly says:

    This is interesting (and I agree with you), but I can see how someone could approach gardening from the standpoint of ‘conserving,’ ‘keeping things the same,’ ‘get government the hell off my property,’ ‘stop taking my money so I can invest it in my land,’ etc.

    There are some admirable old-style conservative tenets (small government, personal responsibility, freedom from interference) that are worth listening to, definitely. (Others … not so much.)

    I don’t think it’s gardening per se but the way you choose to garden that is inherently political, like voting with your wallet.

  2. Heather says:

    Interesting! I actually have found myself feeling more political as a gardener, though I’m not sure if that’s because of the regime that’s been running the show (what’s not to rail against?) or the ideas you’ve expressed, all of which I relate to on some level. I think there are lessons you learn in the garden about “letting go” that make you a better person, therefore a better citizen both in the community and on the planet.

  3. If gardening makes a person more political that would explain why I have been politically aware from a very early age. Then gardening in other people’s gardens must explain why many would consider me a radical leftist, wanting to impose my views and values on others, when I think I am being quite reasonable.

    Then I come home to my garden and realize I can not impose my views on others. I have to just wait patiently for Nature to takes its course knowing full well that Nature can often be quick, brutal and ruthlessly efficient or just as easily slower than my alloted time span.

  4. Amy Stewart says:

    You GO, Colleen! I am totally with you on this! You really nailed it. Brilliant!

  5. Oh, thank God you guys commented. I was having nightmares about this being posted and being patently ignored—like those scenes in movies where someone says something and is greeted only with the sounds of crickets chirping in the distance–so thank you!!

    firefly—I totally agree that the WAY you garden is political. Awesome point.

    Heather–I’m glad you could relate. I think that the whole “letting go” thing about gardening is hugely important. And, yes, yes, yes, the current regime gives us plenty to rail about….

    Christoper–if you ask me, I think the two are probably pretty easily tied together. If you’ve been gardening most of your life (as you and I both seem to have) you learned the lesson early on that you can’t and shouldn’t control everything….and, hey, we need all the radical leftists we can get :-) Hell of a lot better than the alternative…

    Amy—Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I’m so glad I didn’t come off sounding like a blithering idiot :-)

  6. El says:

    Damn, you go, girl. I am so glad your own gardening has helped you look up and out. (I think mine has made me look down and around, as I am the ultimate escapist gardener.) We are all really glad you have had the guts to rant! TROWEL ON! (she cries, holding her citronella torch high)

  7. JLB says:

    Colleen, I really enjoyed your thoughts. Susan – I’m glad you asked her in for this one, it was a great read.

  8. Nancy Benpazi says:

    Wow,I finally found home.Gardeners who think and feel just like me and don’t mind saying so.Thanks

  9. el—Let’s hold those citronella torches high!!

    JLB–thank you very, very much!

    Nancy—Isn’t Garden Rant awesome? If you want opinionated gardeners, this is the place to find them :-)

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