The Psychological Stages of Becoming a Gardener

Planting a shrub or two doesn’t make us a true gardener. Becoming a gardener takes time, and we pass through several psychological stages during this journey.  While we may deny some of these stages, we have all passed through them or will at some point. Like stomach gas, and gray hair, it is unavoidable.

Drowning in Information but Starved for Knowledge– Our interest in gardening piqued we start browsing gardening magazines, watching videos, and talking to our friends who garden. Everyone has an opinion on what soil to use, how and when to plant, what the best plants are, and what tools you need. The next thing we know our heads are spinning and we don’t know where to begin. 

OCD/Anxiety-We finally get our hand dirty and get some plants in the ground. The second guessing begins. Did we choose the right plants? Did we plant properly? Is the spacing correct? This is by far the worst stage to pass through.  It starts with overly examining every plant at the nursery searching for its flaw. Finally after hours of choosing, we fret in our garden setting the plants out, standing back to look, moving them ever so slightly, then stepping back, and moving them ever so slightly again,  This can go on until you happen to notice the neighbors gathering and whispering while they point at you. You finally plant them then spend the next three days second guessing your work.  It’s pure hell.

Shop alcoholic– Oh now the bug has hit and everything else falls by the wayside. Dishes, laundry and bills pile up as we shop, then plants, shop, then plant, shop then plant… . It finally ends when winter comes along or our bank account runs dry.  There are no meeting or support groups, we have to tough this one out on our own.

The Hoarder- Now that we have a couple gardening seasons under our belt, and the shopping has become routine, we look at every plant as an abandoned puppy that needs a home. Our driveway is full of plants we purchased but have no clue where to plant.  This stage usually ends with an angry spouse vengefully driving over our entire stash repeatedly with the car. (This is also NOT the time to call a landscape designer to help you find homes for everything.  I didn’t say that out loud did I?)

Social Awkwardness-At this point in our gardening journey things have gone from still socially tolerable behavior to now we can’t even communicate with other people unless the conversation involves gardening. Our minds can’t register non-gardening words. We start ignoring long time friends, spouses, and coworkers. Even the cat has given up on us petting her. This is actually a tough place to be. Sometimes it’s like we are outside our bodies and we see ourselves staring glass-eyed while people try talking to us, and it frightens us. But we quickly dive back into our bodies, and the solitude and thoughts of our plants soothes our anxiety, and we are at peace with ourselves once again.

Om my god what have I created– This one hits us like a ton of bricks, or should we say a shovel to the face?  We look out one day at our vast garden that has now crept into the neighbor’s yard and realize we have created a monster that can no longer be fed or managed.  A sombering moment indeed.  At this point there is nothing we can do but wait it out until the next stage comes. If you are currently here, don’t despair the next stage will come, trust me.

Inner calm-This final stage of the journey to become a gardener is powerful, and will result in one of two things happening. Some of us will come to terms with the chaos we created, and enjoy its beauty for what is-it-a complete mess.  Others will turn, walk back inside, and let the door shut behind us and take up knitting or auto mechanics and never look at the back yard again.

Where are you in this journey? I would love to hear your story.  Eric




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