Getting Back to Basics: Why Do We Garden?

Gardening for many different reasons. Photos: Lise Jenkins


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

It has become increasingly clear to me that the longer I garden, the more often I return to the basic questions about gardening. Recently, I had a discussion with a dear friend about my need to clear out some shrubs and perennials — in other words, I have too much of a good thing.

When my garden becomes cluttered, I experience a feeling of claustrophobia, a feeling I’m positive some of my prized plants share. Consequently, when one of my favorite roses, Cramoisi Superieur, was looking cramped, I determined that the perfectly respectable low evergreen next to it had to go. In my imagination, Cramoisi heaved a huge sigh of relief.

When I explained this to my friend, she shrugged, explaining that it was very hard for her to take out plants because she gardened to encourage pollinators — and that stopped me in my tracks.

You see, while, of course, like all gardeners I appreciate pollinators, I don’t specifically garden to either encourage them or to discourage them. My primary aim in gardening is to produce flowers in it for 12 months a year (although January can be an iffy month). Please don’t inform me that this would be impossible without pollinators as I am well aware of this fact.

Getting down to basics, we all garden for different reasons, and it’s very important to recognize what you are aiming for in your garden. Some of us just want to look as though we came from a nice family, others, like myself, desire the flowers, and some, like my friend, want to encourage pollinators. Others garden to harbor wildlife while still others want to grow organic vegetables. One close friend gardens for the color it provides. Another wants a scented garden.

At this time of year our gardens typically are a bit overgrown, leaving most of us with the feeling that something has to go. The question is this: What should go? And this is where you have to determine which offending plant should leave your property.

If you are like me and garden for the flowers, it might be the aforementioned evergreen shrub or maybe the overgrown Salvia greggii. If you are into a pollinator garden, the salvia would stay but perhaps the rose that has done nothing for the past four years should go. If you garden for color, perhaps the rose stays but the hellebores go.

I visited another friend recently and passed by her Salvia greggii, one that was covered by very contented bees. Clearly the bees were having a lovely time and while this salvia is not one of my favorites, I decided it should stay in my garden, leaving me to ponder that perhaps I really do relish harboring the pollinators in my garden.

In the end I began to realize that we all garden for a myriad of reasons. Yes, I love my flowers, especially my sustainable roses, but I realize I also love watching the bees appreciate my endeavors. While I enjoy the vividly scented orienpet lilies, my sense of smell is not strong enough to lead me to design a scented garden. In my color scheme I am limited by the vast number of roses I have, and most roses come in various shades of pinks and reds.

All this is an exercise that has led me to wonder why I garden — and by doing so, it has made it easier to determine what should remain and what should leave.

The flowers, including all the roses, definitely stay. I have determined that the various phloxes and salvias, some of which I’m not notably enamored with, should also remain. Those industrious bees around the salvias and the many swallowtails hovering over the John Fanick phlox are pleasing to me.

Surprisingly, I have just realized that I do garden for the pollinators after all, proving old dogs can learn new tricks.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email:

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