What Makes Your Garden Grow?

When I talk about gardening, there seems to be a disconnect between me and the person listening. Maybe I’m the weird one (in fact I’d lay money on that), but when I think of “gardening” the last things I think about are pretty flowers. For me, gardening as all about the food. Eatables. Sustainability. And if I grow roses, you can bet I’m planning on putting them in tea and salads.

When I talk to other people about my passion, the first thing that seems to come to their minds is chrysanthemums and azaleas and prize winning birds-of-paradise. And so they launch into talks of their queen palms, landscaping, and hibiscus. To which I reply, “Mmmm, hibiscus is tasty! Have you ever made syrup from the calyx?” This ends the conversation. I seem to forget that people grow plants for purposes other than food. I guess that’s a personal failing.

I wonder about this. What does it say that the only conceivable idea of gardening for some includes primarily concerns for the aesthetic, and for me, primarily the practical? Okay, and the tasty. I’d be lying if I said I only grow nutrient-rich, high caloric density foods. I grow things I like to eat. I grow things which make my taste buds dance, and my bowels tremor: ghost peppers. Habaneros. Their sister, the Scotch Bonnet. Thai poinsettia peppers. I like it hot.

But how did the idea of growing things get separated into two so vastly different categories? How is it that when I say the word “garden” it means something entirely different to my grandmother and my peers? It makes it interesting when I speak to the local Master Gardeners. Most know their native plants inside and out, and many focus on ornamentals. But when I ask about any eatable other than oranges and tomatoes, they seem to be stumped, and I get referred yet again to the extension service website. What is the edible gardener to do? Aside from purchasing an exorbitantly priced copy of Tom MacCubbin’s now out-of-print book.

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