Opinion » Maxed Out

Gardening is an extreme pastime - really



Gardening has, at a minimum, two fundamental flaws. The first is, it's an obscene amount of work. Gardening generates way more sweat and toil than anything generally thought of as a pastime or hobby should.

The second is almost a punchline, a wellspring of irony. After having expended enough time and labour to build a small house, suffered enough cuts and scrapes to make people wonder whether you might not be hurting yourself intentionally in some bizarre play for attention, scrubbed enough dirt from under your nails to fill another raised bed or choke your septic field, gotten sunburned, bugstung, heatstroked and paranoid over whether anything would grow at all, after all that and more, you may have the good fortune to wind up with a bountiful harvest. Just about the time onions are 49 cents a pound down at the Bag 'n' Save and all your neighbours are trying to give away the same stuff you're desperately trying to eat before it goes bad or you sicken at the thought of eating any more.


In spite of this, I am a reluctantly enthusiastic gardener. I'm sure intense psychotherapy might shed some light on why I've chosen this path but it would probably take more years than I have left or enough electroshock therapy to light a small town to actually affect a cure.

There are, as I write, neatish rows of various coloured stuff growing outside my window. There is an island of rhubarb the size of a three-person tent that is threatening to become the Cariboo version of kudzu. It has spawned a daughter plant up by the garage about the size of a Prius and many children transplanted to friends in Whistler who love rhubarb more than I, which isn't hard since I have no fondness for the bitter stuff.

There are two waist-high forests of potatoes and peas, a growing jungle of raspberry canes shaggy with leaves and nascent berries, garlic, lettuce, spinach, beans, chard, beets, horseradish and unidentified stuff that's either going to be edible or weeds. Who knows? It's all overseen by a gang of thuglike crows just biding their time at the compost bin, waiting for something better, fresher, more tender to pillage or for the foxes to come along and scatter them like dust.

While this may sound tasty, disaster lurks around every corner.

Gardening is dangerous, possibly extreme. In my life, I've played competitive sports, ridden and fallen off motorcycles, climbed sheer rock faces, protested in the faces of dimwitted, heavily-armed police, driven way too fast on twisty roads and way too slow on Toronto's 401 at rush hour, eaten midway food at carnivals and county fairs, and told Ken Read I thought ski racing was a stupid waste of time. The only time I've ever undergone "emergency" surgery involved a gardening accident. I kid you not.

Consider that in a recent survey, 40 per cent of U.S. doctors admit they garden. You may think this is a pretty impressive number but nearly 40 per cent of them admit to still smoking for chrissakes. They know it's dangerous.

Admittedly though, there is something soothing about gardening. It's called exhaustion. I get incensed when I see books or articles touting Lazy Gardening or explaining how to become a lazy gardener. The two words in such close proximity suggest either a total lie or describe my friend Greg. Greg has a beautiful century home in Toronto and a "cottage" on Georgian Bay the size of a boutique hotel. Both have magnificent grounds. The biggest sweat Greg ever broke was writing cheques to the people who provided untold man-years of stoop labour — a term having little to do with physical posture — making them beautiful.

Generally — and this is the important part for you non-gardeners who think you want to garden — it's helpful to never, ever, under any circumstance, pick up any magazine having anything whatsoever to do with gardening. Gardening magazines combine the worst features of both porn and — excuse me for any perceived political incorrectness — women's magazines. Their glossy pictures of perfectly tended gardens are designed to do two things and they do those things very well. First they will make you feel lustful; then they make you feel inadequate and hopeless about your own gardening efforts in much the same way Cosmo will make any normal woman question the adequacy of her lips, breasts, thighs, tummy, eyes, boyfriend and life in general. Or course, they will offer you a dizzying array of products to overcome those inadequacies. They should all be burned... on the rack.