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The Joy of Maintenance

Many garden jobs are repetitive. Even with perennials (which don't need planting so often as annuals), still the fertilizing, pruning, and dividing all have to be done over and over — and with weeding, you're never done.

The garden is a canvas on which the gardener creates art — but once a garden is built, it's not like a painting: a finished product you can hang on the wall. It's more like a baby: once it's born, you now have a permanent relationship — and responsibilities.

The repetitive responsibilities of daily life aren't glamorous. Intellectual work, or work that yields end-product — these get more respect in our culture, than maintenance. Washing dishes, putting away clutter, brushing teeth... we prefer doing something "creative" or "productive." Among professional landscapers, the designer has more status than her colleague who takes over when she's done.

But ninety percent of life is maintenance. We need to appreciate the subtle joys of living in the moment, without always needing to produce. We need physical labor — not only to keep fit, but for many ways we are enriched by keeping in touch with down-to-earth realities.

Living with a plant year after year, observing and tending it through all weather, in its interactions with the whole community of the garden; defending it from foraging animals and destructive pests and disease and invasive plant competitors ... We learn intimately its needs and habits. We're privileged to watch the miracle of life through its whole cycle; to discover rare moments of serendipity and to witness the exciting maturation of big patterns that take years.

Taking care of a being we care about, has effects on us. A child, a pet, an invalid, a plant or the whole living earth ... we learn what will make us more effective: self-discipline, patience, planning, rigorous thinking.... We end up also understanding ourselves better. Plus I have noticed, when I do the daily tasks of maintenance lovingly, somehow I feel nurtured.

Pity the people who don't have the time, or the trust in their own eye, to create their own gardens; who hire landscape designers — missing the joys of creativity. But even sorrier is the loss to those who hire others to tend their gardens, and never get their hands in the dirt. All they have is a picture (usually that someone else made) to hang on the wall.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark


Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 22 August 2003

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