Shut Up and Dig

For This I Could Give Up Gardening

Centralpark I'm in the middle of a three-week vacation in New York. It was supposed to be a two-week vacation, planned long ago when I made it known that the only thing I wanted for my 40th birthday was to spend as much time in NY as I could afford.  It got extended by a week because I had to come out early for the CBS Sunday Morning shoot.  (no rescheduled air date yet, btw)  I spent the first week in a great little studio in the East Village, and then moved to a two-bedroom that I'm sharing with friends.  Thanks to a last-minute problem with the apartment I'd rented and an extraordinary bit of good luck on Craigslist, for these last two weeks I'm in an indescribably luxurious Fifth Avenue apartment overlooking Central Park.  Under any other circumstances I could never afford this place.  To be honest, it wouldn't occur to me to even look for an apartment in this part of town –I like a funky place in the Village much more than a posh place uptown.

But you know what?  The posh uptown apartment is starting to go to my head.  I am starting to entertain wildly unrealistic notions of a comfortable Manhattan lifestyle in which I am on a first-name basis with the doorman and the only art on the walls are the expansive and serenely soundproofed windows that display an ever-changing panorama of this city I love more than any other place in the world.

And maybe, it occurs to me now, I love this city more than gardening.   I have always said that if not for all sorts of practical considerations, I would live in New York.  One of those practical considerations has always been the garden.  Sure, I could make do with a balcony or a terrace or a roof garden or a fire escape or a sunny window or those little spaces in front or back of a brownstone or a community garden or the park or some such thing.  But that's not the kind of garden I have at home–a real, full-sized backyard with chickens wandering around–and how, I have always said, how could I ever survive without that?

Well, it's starting to occur to me that I could.  I could give up gardening for this. 

It doesn't mean that I'm disloyal to the cause.  It just means that gardening–for some of us, anyway– is specific to a time and place Orchid in one's life.  There could be a Manhattan era in my life–one in which I write books and explore every inch of this gorgeous city and memorize the subway stops and truly become a New Yorker–and don't really garden that much.  If I want flowers, I'll buy an orchid.  If I want trees, I'll go to the park.

None of this, of course, is actually going to happen, which makes the question of what one would trade gardening for a hollow intellectual exercise. I am sadly lacking in wealthy patrons who could fund such a fantasy.  But in this gilded pied-a-terre, with its marble bathroom and Manhattan-sized kitchen with a fridge large enough for nothing more than a few bottles of Champagne and a jar of olives, it seems all too alluring.  There are things I would give up for this.  Oh, yes there are.

–Amy

Posted by on July 24, 2009 at 2:40 am, in the category Shut Up and Dig.
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26 responses to “For This I Could Give Up Gardening”

  1. Excellent post! I believe that our desires do change over time. If find myself longing for a loft with a beautiful albeit very small terrace garden. A simplier life in the city. In reality, I have 2 labs, a yard, a neglected garden and 2 ponds. As I’ve gotten older (now past 50), I gone from wanting to live on 36 acres to wanting to live in a uptown loft. I imagine strolling through the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning, not pulling weeds. Spending leisurely hours writing, watching old movies and walking everywhere. Everytime I stay at a fancy hotel in the heart of the city, I find myself saying, I could live here. I really could…

  2. Rosella says:

    Oh, dear! You’re messing with my head this morning. Your trip to New York sounds fantastic, and the apartment must be divine, and your comments are really ringing bells with me. We are at the time in our lives when we know that it would be sensible to move out of our house and move into a condo on the seventh floor with one parking space included in the price, and take up mah jong instead of gardening and buy flowers at the corner florist, but ….. could I do it? Would spring have me yearning like a caged bird for dirt under my nails? Could I pass other people’s gardens without deadheading their plants? What would I do with my collection of plants, including the 4 x 4 25- year-old gardenia? How would I get to sleep at night, if I couldn’t plan next spring’s veggie garden?

    Is there a 12-step programme for reformed gardeners? “Hello, my name is Rosella and I am a gardener.”

  3. You don’t have to give up gardening to live in NYC. Trust me. Or, come out to Flatbush and see the beautiful gardens for your self.

    Conditions, and abilities, do change throughout one’s life. I’m not as vigorous a gardener as I was 30 years ago. But I also now have the largest space for gardening I’ve ever had in NYC.

    P.S.: Blog Widow and I are looking forward to seeing you at BBG tomorrow afternoon!

  4. angelchrome says:

    I feel like I must be the only person in the world who isn’t sold on New York (or London.) They’re fine, I don’t mind visits, but I’d rather eat my own hair than live there.

  5. susan harris says:

    Angelchrome, you and me both. Too damn much concrete and noise.
    But have fun, Amy!

  6. Great post! For some reason, I have the “Green Acres” theme song running through my head now. “The chores! The stores! Fresh air! Time Square!” Oh, how lucky we are to have choices.

  7. Thanks for saying it Xris. Well, as a NYer living in this city for 20 years and gardening in it one way or another for most of those years, it pleases me to hear someone so envious of it. Oh, of course, I’ve lived in much rattier locals than 5th ave, but we got what we got. Somehow I always find a way to garden. What’s important to me is improving my space. Gardening in NYC can be an incredibly public affair and its nice to hear so many compliments. Its different ballgame from a big suburban or country yard, but it enriches an already rich the city experience.

    However, I suppose the grass is always greener as I dream from time to time of the countryside. Hmm, you know these two ideas need each other like black and white.

  8. Michele Owens says:

    Lovely post. It’s life affirming, isn’t it, that we can surprise ourselves and change.

    Of course, New York City bores me to tears–city of hedge fund managers–so I find that part incomprehensible.

    However, I am similarly shocked, in my old age, at how much I enjoy my form of urban living in Saratoga Springs, NY. I always wanted hundreds of acres and no neighbors. Now I eye my 7500 square-foot backyard and delightful neighbors over the fence and think, “Small swimming pool, small vegetable garden, and I would be completely happy.”

  9. Amy Greenan says:

    I am headed in the opposite direction! As I get more and more involved in gardening, I get bigger and more elaborate dreams about it. My partner and I were recently talking to my mom about going in on a place together in order to have more land to grow lots of stuff on, and maybe even turn it into a small business! A few acres somewhere out in eastern Erie or Genesee county is what sounds like heaven to me. I am also one of those who could take or leave NYC — and I’m an artist, even! :)

  10. Pam J. says:

    I am so with you on this one Amy. New York City is a magic place. Some people catch the magic, others don’t. I’m so glad I’m in the former group.

  11. CanarsieBK says:

    Amy – NYC is great and evil all at the same time. Isn’t it?

    You don’t necessarily have to give up gardening while being here though. Big backyards in the city, yes.

    I’m in the East Village (love it) doing some gardening on my fire escape and in my grandmother’s backyard in Brooklyn.

    If you’re still around and have time, would love to show you my set ups.

    There’s also some other people doing some pretty cool stuff around the boroughs.

  12. judybusy says:

    I’ve often wondered if I could ever trade gardening for real city living: I also love New York, a leftover crush from a brief stint as a nanny on the upper west side. For now, though, I’m only 44, so the thought of living somewhere without a backyard is incomprehensible.

    If I could ever do it, I’d head for Rio de Janeiro. A little house up in the Santa Theresa neighborhood, overlooking the whole city. I could still have a little courtyard full of flowers and a place to entertain.

  13. Great post!

    Just don’t mix up your two lives and start buying garden gear at Hermes.

  14. Lynn says:

    An Austrian friend told me the German word to describe a friend who has moved on, who you’ve fallen out of touch with and likely won’t be friends with again: lebensabschnitzfreunde, literally, “life cut friend.” Maybe for you it’s lebensabschnitzgarten.

  15. judybusy says:

    Lynn, thanks for that! The German language’s ability to put together various words to express an idea is always entertaining.

  16. BayAreaExile says:

    and I have given up Manhattan (Chelsea, to be precise) for gardening. To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn).

    JUST DON’T GIVE UP WRITING AND BLOGGING!! we need you out here in cyberland.

  17. Sharon says:

    Great post, Amy. I’m a 3-hour train ride from Chicago, visit a few times a year, and adore every minute of it. In my 20s and early 30s, I would fantasize about living there. With the increasing number of rooftop gardens and terraces, one could easily have it all. And if you don’t want it all, take a stroll to Millenium Park, Michgan Avenue or anywhere downtown and enjoy the beautiful, well-tended plantings that line the sidewalks and medians.

    Now that I’ve tipped past the mid-forties and have my gardens just about the way I want them, the lure of the city no longer has a grip on me. Love it when I’m there, still imagine what it would be like, but 30 minutes after Amtrak pulls out of Union Station and I can see where the sky meets the horizon and watch the passing expanse of corn and soybean fields; the small rural towns; the backyards with clothelines, bird feeders and huge vegetable gardens, I feel at home.

  18. Todd says:

    Its not just the hummingbirds, fireflies, and the sound of frogs I could not give up. I need to be able to have room to experiment and discover new things to grow and eat every year. I just saw a show about how Thomas jefferson loved growing plants and keeping careful journals on his garden successes and failures right up until is ripe-old dying age. I hope to also die with dirt under my fingernails, where you can hear frogs and crickets instead of traffic noise.

  19. At least you’re honest.

  20. Sharon says:

    Speaking of hummingbirds, hey New Yorkers, can you attract them in the city?

  21. Old Kim says:

    Chicken shit. If you want to stay longer maybe your credit card will give you a couple of days.

  22. eliz says:

    I lived there for 2 years or so. Eventually you realize that Manhattan is unlivable without a secure mid-6 figures and a country house.

  23. Isn’t this what the best of traveling does–let’s us imagine what it would be like to be ourselves–but someplace else? Gardens or not, Paris, France or Paris, Texas, the exercise of getting out of our daily environments and into another for an extended period of time opens up vistas we may not be able to imagine otherwise. Great post.

  24. Barbara says:

    It was the same for me in March – about London!

    You don’t have to give up gardening in Manhattan – parks, community gardens, street tree beds, and hello – there are plenty of places w/ outdoor spaces.

  25. Linda says:

    Amy, you have just described my life (except for the Fifth Ave/Central Park view part). I live part time in Washington DC, in a lovely house with garden, and part time in NY, in a studio apartment near Madison Square Park. I have to say I usually prefer the latter these days.

    My gardening life in DC seems to be an endless cycle of deluge, drought, disappointment, dead plants, and dermatitis (also, lately, injuries of middle age such as back problems and tendonitis). I rarely get to simply enjoy the garden–there is so much to do, and I don’t even have a large lot.

    When I am in NY, I can truly enjoy being outdoors, without having to take any real responsibility for it. If I want to hang out and read, I can go to Madison Sq Park; if I want Olmsted-esque inspiration I can go to Central Park or Prospect Park, if I want wilderness I can go to recently restored parts of the Bronx (yes) River. If I want chic, there is the High Line. It’s all there, easily accessible on foot or by the subway. No weeding, watering, or pruning required.

  26. Old Kim says:

    More power to you if you feel safe in the city.

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