The Power of Gardening

By Robert Ross

“Pleasure for one hour, a bottle of wine. Pleasure for one year, a marriage; but pleasure for a lifetime, a garden.”

      — Chinese Proverb

In April 2007, my wife and I bought tickets to the Clairemont Garden Tour; a tour of about fifteen homes, held yearly in early May, in the Clairemont
area of San Diego. According to the tour’s brochure: “This self-guided tour of more than 15 gardens includes waterfalls, streams, koi ponds, canyon views, and English and Mediterranean gardens that attract butterflies and a variety of birds. Members of the Master Gardener Association will offer horticulture and pest control advice, and the Master Composters will provide composting information and instructions.”

For us, the event was an opportunity to see some beautiful gardens in the area and perhaps get ideas about future projects for our own garden.

Clairemont is centrally located; a hodgepodge of middle-class homes, strip-malls, apartments, condos and duplexes. Clairemont is not exactly what you would call a Norman Rockwell
setting. Drive down any street and you’ll likely see a home with a well-tended garden next to a home that has taken the phrase “weed patch” to the next level. Like I said, it’s a hodgepodge.

In May 2007 we headed out with our handy tour map. The tour was quite interesting, with some gardens that could only be described as awesome. And others? . . . well . . . they weren’t bad, but in one or two cases, it appeared as though the homeowner had made a quick trip to Home Depot’s garden center a few days prior the tour event; a few pansies here, a little color there, and voila, you’re picture perfect! 

At the end of the day, I said to my wife, “You know, we can do better than some of those gardens, let’s enter next year’s event!” My wife, who is the real gardener in the house, was less than enthused about the prospect. I assured her that I would do all the work. Little did I know what lie ahead.

In March 2008 we were accepted by the garden committee to show our garden on the tour. I had only a month to whip the place into shape. As I was to learn, gardening is more that just plucking a few weeds here and there and planting a couple of snapdragons. Gardening is, first and foremost, a time commitment. In this case, since I had a month to prepare for the garden tour, it was a daily time commitment.

Not only was I digging and hoeing a great deal of the time, but I was also driving around town to various nurseries looking for specific plants and shrubs. My bedtime dreams were no longer about exotic trips and adventures but rather, replacing agapanthuses with fields of blossoming flowers.

Another lesson learned in this process was: a garden is never finished. It’s an ongoing project that evolves with your desires and with the seasons. For example, I had become acutely aware of sun and shade. By mid-March, I was following the sun as it moved further north on the planetary axis. Should I plant now or wait a couple of weeks for better sun coverage?

And then, there was the concept of patience. If you plant grass seed, for example, you won’t see any results for a week or so. And, it may take many weeks to produce the final results you are trying to achieve. On the other hand, if the seed doesn’t grow, it’s back to square one, and a few gardening web sites to figure what went wrong. Gardening takes . . . patience.

And, let’s not forget humility in gardening. According to my wife, “nature has its rules and you can’t go against them even though you may try, thinking you are in charge. For example, in your eagerness to plant tomato seedlings at the first sign of spring (even though it’s February), the odds are, they will not survive, or if they do, they will not thrive. One can also be thwarted by birds, insects, weather and heat. You bow before a higher authority. Gardening can, at times, be quite humbling.”

There are also the spiritual aspects of gardening. Throughout history, monasteries and temples focused on their gardens, creating sanctuaries of tranquility and beauty.
In a way, the garden represented a metaphor for life itself: birth, growth, deterioration and death; the seasons of life. The song popularized by Judy Collins  comes to mind: Turn! Turn! Turn!... To everything... There is a season... A time to plant, a time to reap...

Tranquility, beauty, a connection to the earth . . . it’s all there, in your garden.

The benefits of gardening are numerous: stress reduction, achieving a sense of renewal, escaping the world’s problems, or perhaps self expression, designing your own secret garden — that special place that engenders peace and tranquility. Take a step out of your door . . . the canvas awaits the artist within.

I’ll leave you with a story told about St. Francis of Assisi’s love of gardening. Once, while St. Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden, he was asked, ‘’What would you do if you were suddenly to learn that you were to die at sunset today?’’ He replied, ‘’I would finish hoeing my garden.’’

For those interested in leaning more about the Master Gardener program, please contact: and if you’re interested in the Master Composter’s program, contact:

Robert Ross can be reached at:

Copyright  2008 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

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