The Roots of My Obsession



Timber Press managed to do the impossible and get thirty gardeners to each stop what they were doing all at once and sit down and write something about why they garden.  The result is this little essay collection, THE ROOTS OF MY OBSESSION:  Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden.  (Hey!  Just in time for the holidays!  How ’bout that?)  Oh, and a portion of the proceeds are getting donated to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.

We’re giving two copies away–just post a comment and say something clever about why you garden.  Here are a few excerpts to get you going.

From Tony Avent:

Just as a computer comes with certain pre-installed programs, I was born with a fully functional 7.0 horticultural operating system, along with some specialized apps like an obsessive personality, an overactive imagination, an overly logical brain, and a touch of ADD.

From Tovah Martin:

When I went to work at Logee’s Greenhouses, the world shrank around me. There was nothing beyond the splash of hoses, the hum of fans, the vines snarling my hair, and the thwack of a bird throwing itself against the greenhouse glass in a desperate effort to get free after it had squeezed through the vents. I was definitely not that bird.

and from Dan Hinkley:

“Objection, your honor,” the attorney protested.  “The defense does not believe that the existence of a C melody saxophone in the defendant’s former possession can in any way resolve the validity of the state’s preposterous claim that gardening, to the accused, has somehow been simply a matter of avaricious expediency.”

You’ll have to read the book to find out how that court case turns out.

Oh, and I’ve got an essay in there, too.

Anyway, post your comments, say something clever, and win a copy.



  1. I got into gardening because I was absolutely fascinated at a young age about how a plant, without a brain (I knew this because i’d checked and couldn’t find a “head” on any of the plants in the garden, so they therefore didn’t have a brain) could know which way to grow to get to the sun, or how they knew to make all those different looking petals and leaves, and how some plants knew to grow into really tall trees, and some into small ground covers. And then I watched a nature documentary on plants and the next day my mum let me buy a few plants of my own… well, I was hooked, and for the rest of my life (I’m 16 so it’s not an overly long life so far) I’ve been absolutely obsessed and enthralled with plants, the different shapes, sizes, colours and the complications that always come with them :).

    Happy Gardening Everyone


  2. I garden because unlike my children: They don’t say “No!”. They stay where I put them. I don’t have to spend 10 minutes slathering sunscreen all over them just for them to be outside for 5 minutes. I can leave them unattended. Dirt all over their feet is a good thing and they won’t track it into the house. They hibernate during winter months. They stay still and ‘smile nice’ for every picture. They don’t get jealous if I appear to pay more attention to one. They give me flowers all summer long and not just on Mother’s Day. They are easier and cheaper to propagate.

    But seriously though, I do love my kids. Some days I just like my plants more…

  3. I picked a copy up a couple weeks ago when I was vacationing in New Hampshire. Haven’t finished it yet, but the essays I have read are delicious! (Amy, yours was the first one I read. And no, I’m not trying to suck up – I already have a copy.) To make matters worse, I totally forgot that I had pre-ordered a copy, and that was waiting for me when I got back from my trip! So now I have 2 copies – don’t even think of trying to foist yours off on me! Seriously, a wonderful book.

  4. When I last looked there were 4 books titled obsession, 7 movies, 7 albums, and 17 songs. It’s about time that gardening was part of the obsessive mix. Particularly since Adam and Eve started the whole obsessive thing in a garden…

  5. I love everything about gardening. The collection of plants, the designing of the garden, the flow of the seasons observed through the garden, and most of all, watching the garden change and mature along with me.

  6. I’m well beyond gardening as I’ve also been in love with landscape design, installation and maintenance. But none of that would have been possible were it not for my growing up against some coastal mountains and spending half my childhood just wondering how it all works. I even wrote about these reason for this love of gardening in a post called “Early Childhood Influences = Future Urban Landscaping Layouts”

    I have to admit I was a freak of sorts. I didn’t like sports and spending time on that mountain and later obsession with learning the mechanics of how nature works in school tweaked me to the person I a today. No regrets whatsoever!

    Hmmm, now if I can just tweak the rest of the planet, then I’d be considered normal – *smile*

  7. … because I like to brag about how much of the meal [or dessert, or ANYTHING!] that we’re eating or sharing with friends I grew right in my front yard. “You know, this pumpkin pie? LITERALLY made from scratch! Except the sugar… and the eggs… I don’t lay eggs…”
    I like to fluff my own feathers. It annoys people. 😀

    Oh, and booze…

    Booze is better with homegrown fruit and herbs… jus’ saying.

    [if anything, I’m going to goto my local bookstore and just read Tony’s essay. That man in plant porn, I swear…]

  8. I garden because I have to – there’s just something inside that pulls me along and inspires me to create and experiment in the garden. It’s like breathing – as long as i’m alive – i’ll be doing it.

    But to have the love, but not the opportunity or catalyst to pursue gardening – would have been the worst possible “missed connection”.

    So, I garden because i had a grandma that planted hollyhock seeds, which did not impress me the first year – but bowled me over the 2nd when they bloomed. My respect, love and fascination with plants begins.

    I garden because my parents let me, at a very young age, do anything and everything in our small condo garden. My garden learning begins.

    I garden because of the garden mentors I stalked in the neighborhood, who let me admire their gardens and shared their experience.

    The love for gardening was innate (my hope for all), and my good fortune was the opportunity to pursue this love – that’s why i garden.

  9. Well damn this looks like it’ll go great with bourbon and Godiva. The other day I was digging in a plant and this worm looked up at me and said, “I knew you would come.” I felt my destiny collapse right there into that hole, my life funnel in like compost from my cupped hands. I knew I was a gardener. And that I was drunk.

  10. Ahhh, I don’t think this will be very clever, but I am so thrilled to have recently moved to a house with a real garden (my former was a postage stamp garden). This house has not just one, but two large garden areas. I plan on spending the winter figuring out what to plant in the spring and ordering seed catalogs.

  11. If the winners are chosen but their creative writing, I’m definitely a loser…you other people sound like you could write a few more chapters to what sounds like a book I’d love to cozy up and sit and read during the blustery days of winter, when the ground is frozen over and I can just enjoy the winter landscapes I’ve helped to create, and while I’m waiting for the new plant catalogs to arrive.
    Maybe they’ll consider me for a copy anyway…????

  12. I’m thinking there must be a ‘gardening gene’. If there is, I certainly have it. I have an old photo of my very first veggie harvest – an overgrown zucchini I grew as a kid that was almost as big as I was! And I remember when I bought my first starter house I couldn’t wait to rent a tiller and tear up the backyard to make room for a garden. This was back when James Crockett’s PBS series was must-see TV in my circle of friends. Since then I’ve cut back on gardening a few times as other interests showed up on the scene, but I’ve never stopped growing things. Now that I’m retired, I get to spend many pleasurable hours gardening, and also get to mentor others in a community garden project. I can only hope that my love of gardening and enthusiasm for it is contagious to those around me!

    • Dave, I to hope that my love of all things gardening will encourage others to get back to the garden! Keep thinking the way you do, its all good and works. From the garden Clint of the Garden

  13. My garden is my pantry, my apothecary, my snack bar, my gym, my studio and palette, my laboratory, my inspiration, and my true home. And I don’t even own it. It’s a community garden plot where I’ve been building the soil for some years. So it’s also my consulting office, where people come to ask questions about plants or gardens. I’m there as much as I can be, and when I’m away from it, I’m figuring out ways to carry more on my bicycle or trading seeds around the world or coming up with interesting ways to save and eat the bounty.

  14. Much to my surprise, I am happily married. I loved dating — all of the anticipation and delicious wondering what would happen next. But then I got married, and I wondered where would I get my anticipation fix? The answer was gardening. For me, gardening is 95% wondering and imagining. What seed catalogs shall I get? Which seeds shall I order? Which plants? Where’s the best spot? It’s delicious and satisfying in a very different way.

  15. I fought against gardening. It was something my mother did – I didn’t like her much and wanted to be as different from her as possible. Then one day I realised that she was at her best in her garden and I thought “hell, if I can get along with her while we’re out here, then this must be the best emotional therapy on the planet”. That was 20 years ago and I’ve gardened ever since.

  16. I had an herb garden as a girl but then for many years I grew away from plants and spent most of my time with my nose between the pages of thousands of books. When a rare swelling disease made language more difficult for me, and life became rather painful in general, I returned to the soil to soothe my extremely delicate, confused and lightly damaged ego. Gardening reconnected me to the world as we know it and although I am still ill, after a decade of plant therapy (ok, and a lot of medications and medical treatments too), I am on the mend and am living a much more fulfilling life. I owe a great deal of my recovery to my garden and botanical pursuits.

  17. I live to garden. I exercise so I can garden. I eat healthy foods so I can garden. I save my money so I can garden. I read botanical blogs so I can garden. Yes, I have an obsession! I love it!

  18. Gardeners are optimists continually visualizing how the garden will look next spring, how the bulbs will add early color, what the seeds will grow into, when the Viburnums will bloom, I know many of the essay authors and would like to read what they wrote.

  19. When you come home from putting the community garden “to bed,” stinking of the manure dust that’s covering every inch of your body, weary from using the wheelbarrow for three hours, stooped from planting tulips and lilies, itchy from topping everything off with hay–and you’re happy as a pig in sh*t–well, then, you’re an obsessed gardener.

  20. Being in the garden is akin to being in the kitchen or reading a book. I am there because that’s how I maintain a balanced life. Hugging my kids, chatting with friends, seeding lettuce, weeding the border — all are equally necessary for a complete life.

  21. Gardening is a part of my being….there are stories of me moving plants from one part of the garden to another at age three. The only problem was that the neighbors did not like me moving their plants to another bed in my parents yard!

    Love to see why others garden…hope I win.

  22. Gardening lets me paint a landscape without toxic toluene or turpentine. I can sculpt with pruning shears. I can craft a quilt with scraps of plants that thrill. I can weave a plait of waving grasses and meandering vines. And then my ego pauses as my handiwork is transformed by nature’s cycles of light and warmth. I pick up the brush once again.

  23. Geez, this is tough to write.

    Not that I don’t know why I garden obsessively. I do know. But being Southern born & bred, with a healthy dose of Italian in my blood, getting it down to a few lines is … difficult, at best. There are so many stories to tell you!

    Soooo … I garden because my mother taught me the frugality of growing & preserving your own food. And that the food will taste so much better than anything you could buy in the store, in part because you get to choose varieties that suit your soil & your taste buds, but also because you’ve invested some of your own sweat into making it grow. And I garden because she showed me what a miracle a simple flower is – how it grows from dormant branch, to bud, to bloom, maybe even to fruit. Nature is full of marvels like these that non-gardeners take for granted. When I garden, she is there beside me in spirit, noticing the new shoots and the way the clematis has happily run amok.

    I garden because my Grandpa-in-law gave me all his old tools. And each time I pick one up to use it (even though I have modern, more efficient versions of the same), I feel like he is also there with me, telling old jokes & talking about Montana and when am I gonna prune that cherry tree?

    I garden for therapy. Eight hours of office-based stress & frustration coupled with an hour of bumper-to-bumper can all be undone by going to the garden and picking flowers or produce, or deadheading, or pruning, or weeding, or just sitting on the retaining wall and listening to the trees rustle and the birds talk. On a really bad day, there’s usually heavy lifting to be done or something I can hack away at or a hole to chop through the hardpan.

    And I garden to show my kids that while hard work is its own reward, sometimes there are fringe benefits. Like a more fit body, a yard that’s a pleasure to walk through, good food & pretty flowers for the table. And a happy mother. That’s likely the one they appreciate the most.

    Looks like I still didn’t make my self-imposed “few lines” limit!

  24. They ask, “Why do you plant a tree that you won’t see mature?”. I answer, “Because someone else will come after me and love and nurture this tree, this landscape and these gardens. They will be different than mine, but they will still be here in some form.”

  25. I’m VERY new to gardening, still learning everything as it were. But my wife is not. She is the doyonne of container gardening, or at least I like to think she is. She plants veggies and gets our two kids involved so that they are both out there helping. She moved to soil gardening and watching her and the kids out there made me change my mind. “I don’t garden, my mother forced me to weed hers EVERY year! I HATE gardening!”

    You know how it goes, the quickest way to teach a child how to hate something is to force them to do it.

    So I’ve started slow, watering containers, going out with my family as they work on a new project, helping the kids when things are too cumbersome for tiny hands. And it’s so much more fulfilling then I remember. I get to spend time with my family, outdoors, doing something that directly benefits us. (And also helps my daughter broaden her rather limited palate… there was a veggie embargo on her diet that she enforced like a whole phalanx of U.N. peacekeepers.)

    And now? Well, now I see benefit in having my hands caked with dirt and planting something and watching it grow. In knowing that some of my kids best family times may happen out here instead of in front of TV set. And that it feels good to let go of an old and foolish resentment that’s been hanging around since childhood.

    I’m new to gardening, so I’d love to read about the inspriations of those who arent’.

  26. Just saw this in the Plant Delights newsletter. Now I want it.

    Why do I garden? Maybe it’s the smell. Soil. Composting leaves. Freshly cut grass. Rosemary oil. Tomato leaves. Sweat. Pine needles. Tulips. The list goes on…

  27. I never knew how much I would love gardening until I started my own garden. I always took it for granted that there was a garden in the backyard, growing up. Then when getting our first house I tackled the weedy ground and put in my own plants, and it was thrilled. I absolutely love the wonder of putting little unobtrusive seeds into the dark soil and seeing eager green shoots emerge, unfolding green lines of life. When the seedlings are sprouting in my windowsills or under lamps I am just compelled to go grin at them dozens of times a day, they make me so happy. And the work outdoors, the oneness with nature, the challenge of beating pests, the organizing of rotation, the delight of trying new things, the delicious food it brings to my table- all in all it’s the most engaging hobby I’ve ever had and I know I will now never be quit of it.

  28. I garden because I taught junior high school for 39 years and was marinated in hormonal insanity on a daily basis. Gardening taught me sanity. It taught me to be patient with my adolescents. In the garden I would put in a seed, water it and it believe it would sprout. With my students, I would know that the seeds of literacy and civility might take a season to sprout, but the green shoots would eventually rise above the darkness.

  29. After an active professional life, heart attacks, cancer, and strokes, and still being alive, my doctors all wanted to know what I did to exercise. They accepted gardening as an answer. They are now happy. So I now go sit on a foam kneeling pat and either pull plants out of soil or put plants into soil. I find I am now happy also.

  30. I started my first garden in the 70’s because I wanted fresh herbs which weren’t available anywhere in my town back then. I refused to think of myself as a gardener in those days, that was for Old People. After a few years, at the request of my boyfriend, I added tomatoes and peppers. Everything snowballed from there, but it was still hard to admit I was a gardener.
    It’s several decades later, I’m officially a gardener. I wear the title proudly and even became a Master Gardener. I’m still not one of those Old People though!

  31. Mulligans! My garden is a place for experimentation, self expression, symbiosis, food, beauty, and wildlife. But, when I make inevitable mistakes, or we have an unexpected hailstorm in June, there’s always next season. I like a place in my life where do-overs are not just OK, they’re built into the model.

  32. Gardening and ADHD make a really good combination. I even get praise and respect for it. Imagine that!

    I hate contests that discriminate against those of us who are not clever with words.

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