There is not a single event that led to my passion for gardening; it has been a long, steady progression. From as early as I can remember, my father shared with me the concepts, techniques, and art of gardening. It was in this same passed down tradition that he had learned from his grandmother, an immigrant from Slovakia. I now realize that gardening was more than just an act or chore. It was valuable personal time to spend with my father while learning and growing.
As a youngster, gardening just seemed like a trivial notion and enjoyable hobby until I found myself working around the neighborhood cutting lawns and doing other yard maintenance tasks. I was making money as a kid, a feeling that was rewarding on its own. The more I got into it, the more I learned. Gardening taught me the rewards of patience, the value of work hard, and the ability to nurture.
The values of gardening were reinforced on my first visit to Europe when I was a twenty year old. My family met our newly discovered relatives in the small eastern European village of Gbely where my grandmother was born. It didn’t take long to realize the importance of gardening in this region. In Slovakia, gardening is essential, not a hobby. People rely on their gardens to put food on the table. That is their reality. My father’s cousin had the biggest yard in the family, and therefore, the family garden. It must have been a half acre or so. Every day in the evening, several family members would show up and maintain the garden after a full day at work. Besides vegetables, my relatives raised pigs, chickens and rabbits for food. My Slovak family also grew a few rows of wine grapes at a cooperative, which have produced some award-winning wines.
With my new observations on how people live on the other side of the world, I began to understand the importance of gardening. One day as I was pondering this notion, I had a life changing realization at work. At the time, I was a full-time gardener at a well known winery in Sonoma County. I turned to my partner (who was a life-long vegetarian and gardener) and said “Gardening is a trip.” The response I got was “No, gardening is the trip.” What a concept!
I believe the world needs more gardeners. Gardening is all about connections. Gardening forms connections between people and the natural cycles of life. Gardening connects people and creates community. Look at any inner-city where a community garden has been installed. The result is that people in the area take ownership of the land, spend time outdoors, and the garden becomes a social network. Gardening is more than just taking care of plants. I believe that more Americans need to get on board and find out that gardening is the trip.