Garden Nature
Hershey Gardens, Hershey, Pennsylvania

A Man’s Place is in the Garden

Why aren’t more guys gardening? Every time I do some research on growing vegetables I’m reading content written for female readers or the elderly, and I don’t think I can handle one more stock photo of a cute girl wearing a floppy sun hat.

Okay, maybe one more.

This apparent difference between boys and girls has wormed its way into the collective consciousness of social media and continues the nasty mission of castrating all that is masculine about tending your own chunk of land. After all, what tugs more at the heartstrings of men more than growing something, more than shaping the land with your own two hands and cultivating your own sustenance? Whether it’s a single window box on your balcony or a multi-acre affair, a man’s place is in the garden, and it’s time we take a step back into the sunshine and reclaim that.

The core tenet of gardening is to grow something. That’s what it’s all about, and that ought to be enough to get somebody riled up enough to march to a local garden center and pick up a flat of pansies.

But enough about my weekend.

Nothing strikes so centrally to a man’s identity as his ability to grow. It doesn’t matter if it’s growing as a successful entrepreneur, stacking on some mass at the gym, or doing that weird thing the Grinch’s heart did in How The Grinch Stole Christmas. We’re meant to challenge ourselves and reach new limits. To be in a garden is to be surrounded by living, growing things, each one pushing upwards and battling a host of obstacles to reach its destination.

Sounds like good company, if you ask me.

Ducks swim in water and men work with tools. They’re everywhere we go, from physical equipment to digital instruments and even the implements to cope with unexpected tragedy, like why they cancelled The Muppets again. The staple tools in the shed are the same ones mankind has been using since the agricultural revolution, stuff like shovels and picks and the trusty garden ho. The reason swinging a mattock feels so invigorating is because it reconnects us to those first bad-asses who needed to dig a hole, to plant a seed, and to make sure their food grew so they didn’t starve.

Working a shovel forces us to use our hands in a way that we’re growing increasingly distant from. Take a look at the Google Image Search results for “gardening” and you’ll see lots of produce and flowers and, yes, floppy sunhats. What’s missing from these pictures is the effort that goes into making a chunk of land viable for gardening. It’s like looking at all of those pictures of successful business owners with smiling faces and pressed suits that never pay attention to the tremendous effort they went through to achieve that success.

Before that corner of the yard is a garden, it’s a rocky and untended chunk of compacted soil requiring hours of labor to prepare. Lugging out heavy stones, breaking through and digging out decades of compacted soil, and remediating the area with healthy soils and material can be a drawn out process.

The author (left) breaking ground in his garden with the help of a few friends.

But there’s a beauty in that. When gardening, there are no deadlines to worry about. The land is worked at any pace, and the gardener is encouraged to take their time. It’s a place of focus and of relief, even with the physical effort that goes into it. When I’m in my garden, I put away my phone and crack open my beer and get to work. And sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it’s a place of respite where I don’t do a damn thing but relax and take it all in.

A homegrown flower started from seed by the author.

All of this applies to smaller and more urban gardens. Even a cityscape balcony can be a garden escape (remember that first picture I linked to?). Hanging window boxes, moving in clay pots and containers, and mixing soil in an enclosed area is as much a challenge as breaking ground on a 4 foot by 10 foot garden bed.

And finally we touch upon the profound satisfaction of man producing something tangible. It can be something you eat, like a tomato or pepper, or maybe an herb used to spice up that mojito or pasta sauce, and still yet it could be a pleasant and aromatic arrangement of flowers bowing in the wind. These are all things the gardener grew, fostered, and harvested from their own effort.

The best tomato is the one you grow yourself. Guests are intrigued that the basil in the pasta sauce is from your own window box, and those flowers growing outside the window? Well, they’re just beautiful and something to be proud of. Gardening provides a man with a sense of satisfaction, achievement, and gratitude in a way nothing else does.

My garden is my domain. It’s a place where the outside world cannot bother me, it’s a sort of sanctuary from the craziness of a modern lifestyle. My tomatoes will fruit and the cucumber will too, and I will listen to the chickadees and the robins doing their thing while I weed between the planted rows. I breath deeper in the garden because I know how much work went into designing and constructing it through my sweat and my time. It stands as a testament to my work ethic and what I love the most in this life. It keeps me connected to the outdoors, a connection that many of us have neglected.

Grab a trowel, crack open a beer, get those hands dirty, and give gardening a shot.