One of my felicitous discoveries of this past summer was Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Podcast – she’s quite funny! Deciding to read on, I found the title of her book The Happiness Project inordinately inspiring – just like Rubin I’m an inveterate list-maker and project starter although I must admit her monthly self-improvement regimen seems daunting. Surprisingly, as I was reading, I realized a gaping hole in her Happiness Project List – there was nothing about gardening! As a hyper-urban New Yorker, this is understandable: even when seeking to increase her sensory experience, Rubin opts for scented candles and experimenting with perfume and her space and time to be in nature seems limited to her vacation experiences. Of course, Rubin states quite often, this is HER project, everyone’s plans will be quite different as they should be.

Reading her plan however got me thinking a little bit about my customers (and me!), so let me ask the question: Do our gardens bring us happiness? Before answering with a resounding “duh, yeesss!” some self-searching is necessary, so full disclosure here:

  • Someone I know is happily dozing on the screened-in porch whereas I am jumping up after only 5 minutes (without even finishing my lemonade!) to weed the heucheras, harvest the Swiss chard or tie up the zinnias spilling onto the driveway.
  • Alternatively, in the heat of August, I’m guiltily lounging inside with an air-conditioned book pretending I don’t know there are beans out there wanting to be picked.
  • I’ve been known to angrily rip out overly aggressive plants I previously enjoyed (hello, Lysimachia nummularia), to cry over plants ripped out by landscape services, and to berate myself for the dead ones “I forgot.”
  • And lately I’ve begun to suspect I have an acquisition obsession – though somewhat assuaged by vicarious nurturing plants here in Bowood’s Nursery. Why does this or that plant need to be in my garden which is completely full already?

Not exactly happiness landmarks.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. We want our gardens to be beautiful and accept that this takes a lot of work. But we need to temper the work with satisfaction in a job well-done. Not at all possible unless we understand that gardening is about PROCESS, not product (Instagram notwithstanding).

Borrowing from Rubin again, we should begin to think of gardening as a habit, which is not the same thing as a series of goals to be met. I often hear my customers say, “I have three pots I need to fill,” or “Once I finish the front yard, I’ll work on the back yard,” and often they show me pictures and apologize for “messiness” or “mistakes.” My aim is often to let them know it’s okay, it’s great, it’s yours! I’ve looked at enough garden magazines and Instagram posts to know where staging has taken place. A growing garden should look like a kitchen where cooking is taking place, a playroom of children in the midst of pretend or someone in the middle of an ultimate crafting project!

We have a long, slow march into winter here in St. Louis and it’s become pleasant again to be outside. It’s a perfect time to reflect on what I see from my porch chair and to see it as it is, not as I want it to be.

My new Garden Happiness Resolution is going to be:

“It’s yours, it’s constantly evolving, and will never again be exactly like it is at this moment. Seize your joy!”