Since ancient times, humans have believed that the world is divided into two types of people: those who performed timely routine garden maintenance, and those who don’t.
Gardeners take great pride in their understanding of soil pH, light, drainage and the latest new varieties. They possess many tools and books. By-pass pruners, knee pads, hedge shears, sun hat. They sometimes won’t stop talking about hand moisturizers.
Non-Gardeners are overwhelmed, uninterested or too busy to learn the basics of garden maintenance. They’re terrified that if they try, they’ll break an ankle or have a wood tick lodged in their belly. For some, gardening 4 hours a week constitutes low maintenance; for others, anything over 30 minutes moves into the ‘suffering’ category.
Many Non-Gardeners pay others to do the work. Some just ignore their garden-maintenance needs thinking they will go away. Others could be gardeners, but their life is filled with other things they would rather to do, such as drink wine coolers and watch Seinfeld reruns.
Conventional wisdom holds that we are assigned a Gardener or Non-Gardener designation at birth and that it is an immutable trait that cannot be altered during our lifetimes. Like being right-handed or hatred of beets. Alternatively, some fervently believe that our maintenance style is a choice, and that we can simply decide which type of person we wish to be. The extremists among this group also believe that being a Gardener is the only proper, moral choice and that Non-Gardeners are broken, bad humans.
I suggest a third option: We are all on a “maintenance spectrum.” We each have a bit of Gardener and a bit of Non-Gardener in us and the percentages ebb and flow as circumstances in our lives and homeownership change.
Take the Late-Life Gardener. This is a person who was always too busy with family and job to learn and perform routine garden maintenance. They hired somebody. The math worked: the Non-Gardeners job paid more money hourly than whatever they paid the professional. Then they retire. Suddenly, not only does their fixed income require them to learn and perform garden maintenance, they actually want to. They are bored with their new free time. Gardening creates a sense of purpose and control that is sorely lacking since they lost their minions and bosses.
Conversely, some lifelong Gardeners approach retirement age too tired and broken down by a life time of diligent maintenance to continue tackling their perpetual to-do list. So, they convert to a Non-Gardener. They buy a condo with the joy of never having to weed again. They begin to drink wine coolers on the couch and watch reruns of Seinfeld.
Some Non-Gardeners realize that they are Gardeners when they purchase a home. After several unsatisfactory encounters with paid professional gardeners, they decide to learn to do it themselves. They venture slowly into this terrain, but thanks to the Font of All Garden Knowledge (YouTube), they begin exploring projects of which they never could have conceived: pruning a hydrangea, incorporating compost and even deadheading salvia. They enthusiastically embrace their Gardener identity, including joining a garden club.
Some people are Garden Maintenance Fluid: A Gardener one day when the daylilies need deadheading; a Non-Gardener the next when the whole garden needs a fresh top-dress of mulch.
Of course, there are some who are so far on one end of the spectrum or the other, so wedded to their garden maintenance identity, they will never move either way. This phenomenon is most common among The Constant Gardeners, who view maintenance of their garden as a battle against entropy and chaos that they simply cannot stop fighting, and the Slacker Gardeners, who don’t even know what buckthorn looks like, let alone how to prune a dogwood. These people never question their identity one way or the other, often due to local cultural norms, family pressure or fear of bullying. On the rare occasions when these people do explore alternatives, they are likely to swing so far to the other side of the spectrum that they become almost unrecognizable to their family and friends, who may ostracize them, especially when a new Gardener convert plants tulip bulbs upside down, or a fledgling Non-Gardener refuses to cut the grasses back in the spring.
The most important thing, regardless of where on the garden maintenance spectrum you or your loved ones fall, is to accept that there is no right answer. We must learn to respect and honor people who occupy all points on the Gardening spectrum and allow them to explore and experiment with their desire to pull weeds, apply fungicides, fertilizers or not. Most importantly remember this: there is no room for hate in garden maintenance. Only room for improvement.