What Makes a Good Gardener?

Garden ToolsThe qualities of a good gardener are a bit like a  fruitcake recipe.  The type that takes half the grocery store and involves days to make it from scratch.  By mixing many small ingredients together an entirely different product is achieved.  Gardeners are like this too.  Their personalities are made up of lots of smaller positive qualities that when combined form the essence of a gardener.  Like good fruitcake, sometimes it just takes some time to “cure” (and a little rum helps too) before a gardener really becomes a great gardener.

Whatever the skill level, gardening often changes a person into something better.  Gardening does have a positive effect on people.  Many studies have shown that being around plants lowers the blood pressure and calms the nerves.  Except for dealing with a wisteria that refuses to bloom after seven years of vigorous growth, the physical activity and emotional healing experienced while gardening will have a positive effect.

What are the qualities that make a good gardener?   A love of plants is expected but often a love of all living things prevails.  Gardeners often have a kind heart for birds, animals, and small children in addition to their love of plants.  Gardeners by nature seem to be nurturers and caring people.  Accepting the responsibility of caring for plants (animals and birds) makes us nurturers at heart.  How can we help not being this way?

One of the most important qualities needed to be a good gardener, and what sets our pastime apart from many others, is a good old-fashioned dose of patience.  Patience is a fleeting virtue among the “need it now”, instant gratification world.  Luckily patience is not a vanishing quality among gardeners.  Gardeners have shown lots of patience when they spend two years looking at an algae covered pot of soil while hoping that the cold and heat treatments would get the finicky seed to grow.  Even growing relatively fast crops like tomatoes are an undertaking of four to six weeks before they can be put outside in the garden.  The anticipation of biting into that first ripe tomato teaches patience. 

Connected with patience is a strong determination among gardeners to see a project through to the end or at least until the plant flowered.  Orchid growers are especially determined gardeners.  They buy the tiniest plants and through sheer determination, raise them to flowering stage years later.  Luckily a lot of orchids bloom for weeks so that these gardeners can savour their achievement for a long time. 

Along with the sheer determination needed to train plants in an espalier form against a wall or trim bonsai with mini-shears, gardeners often have stamina.  Stamina is different than determination.  Determination and perseverance requires will power and drive.  Stamina takes both of this plus physical endurance.  Stamina is spending an afternoon edging the entire driveway with a manual lawn edger (without many complaints) and then digging out the dandelions from the lawn. 

A gardener with a sense of purpose is one with a vision.  Having a vision and being able to picture the anticipated end result is a valuable quality that will eliminate lots of unnecessary frustration.  A vision is the roadmap to follow when creating the garden.  Gardeners should have a clear vision when they set out to create their botanical statement. This anticipated picture may change somewhat between the start and finish but it is key to success.

Being creative is the fun part of creating the vision.  Gardeners are continually showing their creativity with new plant combinations and innovative accessories for the garden. Letting the creative ideas flow freely brings out some amazing results.  Ingenuity is frequently linked with creativity.  This ability to make do with whatever is nearby is also a trait that is particularly strong in gardeners.  There are always makeshift trellises for the climbing beans, temporary compost piles or a new way to stake tomatoes (with hockey sticks?) showing this ingenuity in gardeners.  

Gardeners are a very reliable and dedicated group given the unforgiving nature of their charges.  Anyone growing seedlings, bonsai, or hanging baskets is destined to be reliable when plant care is involved (or they won’t be growing for long).  Getting water to a parched plant is crucial or they cease to exist.  The more reliable the gardener the better gardener they will be.  Wouldn’t this be a great way to teach this skill to young children?

Given the unpredictability of the weather, gardeners had better have a good sense of humour.  Marble size hail dropping from the sky and shredding the leaves of hosta, cannas or bananas is not a sight for the uptight.  Mother nature likes to play tricks so gardeners have to learn to live with it.   For other challenges, like the dog rolling over a prized delphinium and snapping it off at the ground, the healthiest response is the grin-and-bear-it one.  Even if this plant was the one that was started from seeds that came all the way from England.

Being forgiving goes along with having a sense of humor.  When a treasured plant dies, the garden does not cease to exist.  Good gardeners have a forgiving nature that allows them to look at the opportunities present and start anew.  Plant life and death situations in the garden are a frequent occurrence that cannot be avoided.

Gardeners always have intimate knowledge of everyone’s favorite subject – the weather. Gardeners are keenly aware of the weather because it affects their gardening life.  This interest in weather allows gardeners to strike up a conversation anywhere with other gardeners.  Sometimes a conversation with a new gardener friend will even result in plants exchanging hands.  Gardeners are also very willing to share their plants with others.  Sending a part of ones garden home with an admirer is a tradition that goes back to pioneer days.  Gardeners are a generous lot. 

Lastly, gardeners have a love for plants, flower and nature that gives them an appreciation for the finer things in life.

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