The author is happy alone in his garden.

I believe we gardeners (home hobbyists, not including farmers or those teaching others to garden), are mostly alone when we garden.  I’d love to cite some authority for this proposition but I can’t find any scholarly articles that address the question.  Let’s assume for discussion, however, that it’s the norm.

Why do we garden alone?

After all, we’re social animals.  Well, after coffee or tea we are.  We certainly enjoy socializing with others, talking plants or engaging in club activities. But come time to wield the hoe or shovel . . . Poof!  We are alone.  Is that because we prefer to putter by ourselves in our piece of nature?  My guess is that our self-imposed isolation is tied to why we enjoy gardening in the first place.

The Meditative State

For example, I find sanctuary when I am outside gardening.  The repetitive tasks of planting, weeding, or mowing allow me to turn my brain chatter off.  I come inside bone-tired but mentally refreshed.

Achieving this mind-blanking peace isn’t really possible whilst working alongside a friend or spouse.  Socialization or coordinated planting require some level of active mental and/or vocal effort.

However, our brains,  when confronted with unvarying stimuli like hoeing a row, simply turn off.  This resembles meditation that’s often begun with repetitive chants, like “Om.”  Or a meditative state can be induced by focusing on one specific thing, like your breathing.

Neuro-scientists say that meditative states reduce the emotional reactivity of the portion of our brain called the amygdala.  That’s a fancy way of saying a peaceful state is achieved. This is pretty much what happens for me when pulling chickweed from my garden beds, or planting perennials with which I’m familiar. (Dig, dig, plant; backfill. Rinse, lather, repeat).  I don’t have to consciously think about it . . . I just do it.  

Da Missus reports the same type of mental relaxation whilst engaged in her knitting. She reminds me, though, that sometimes the pattern is complex and demands her active concentration: no meditative state is possible. 

Meditative States Not for Everyone or Everywhere

The same sometimes applies to us in the garden.  I really have to concentrate when selectively pruning branches on my Japanese Maples.  Do-overs are not possible for snips that turn out to be too aggressive.

This leads me to another qualification concerning meditative enjoyment in our gardens – that it might not apply to beginning gardeners.  I don’t know about you, but I was in a constant state of uncertainty about everything at the start.

Thankfully, it gets better as we learn.  Take heart, new gardeners!  You will find peace in your solitary deadheading and bug-picking once you realize that few mistakes have permanent consequences.

Other Reasons we  Garden

Creative Control. There are likely several aspects of gardening that give you pleasure or fulfillment (and tomatoes).   For instance, there’s the creative process of designing and putting in a garden border.  But that’s not a pleasure that can be shared easily.

By analogy, when working in oils or watercolor, it’s not practical to have more than one painter painting a picture.  In creating gardens, we plot, plant and hoe alone. 

Editorial integrity, however, prompts me to note that the Missus helps me by pointing out where a naturalistic concrete bunny would look nice. Even so, she leaves it to me to make decisions regarding the what and where of plants. 

Deciding for yourself is a pleasure . . . having sole dominion over something is gratifying and rare (ignoring Mother Nature’s trickery for the moment). 

Achieving a Goal. The foregoing are internal reasons we garden.  There are also external and concrete objectives involved sometimes, e.g., planting a wind barrier of trees or painting a fence black. (Shout-out to Marianne!)  Type A people may be particularly attracted to concrete goals. 

Still, the pursuit may be the same . . . that is, being alone while building, painting, or fertilizing.  Achieving a self-assigned goal can be more satisfying if it’s accomplished yourself rather than with others. 

Some Pleasures are Shared

This is not to say that enjoying the garden itself need be a solitary pursuit.  Friends, partners, or family members can then be welcomed to share with you the pleasure of place.

So, we return to the question: Do you putter about with your trowel all alone in the garden? Do tell.