Today’s column continues our exploration of ways to achieve happiness through gardening.
Our previous column focused on hands-on gardening experiences: weeding, adding plants and managing the garden. That column is available for review at https://tinyurl.com/2vwhmv56/.
Many gardeners enjoy having their hands in the soil, but today’s topic involves gaining happiness in gardening with clean hands.
First, note that columns in the “Gardening for Happiness” series include photos, with captions, that exemplify a category of garden plants. You are invited to identify this week’s category. The answer will be provided at the end of the column. Just for fun, before looking at the answer, decide on your idea of the category.
Cut Leaf Daisy (Brachyscome multifida) is a perennial herb found in the grassy understories of woodlands and open forests. A member of the Aster plant family (Asteraceae), it grows best in a full sun position but can tolerate part shade and a range of soil types including heavy clays and light-sandy loams. (Courtesy Bill Bishoff)
Let’s begin thinking about gardening.
A gardener’s thoughts about gardening can occur at different levels.
The lowest energy level could involve simply enjoying the garden’s shapes, colors, fragrances, and the sounds and movements caused by breezes. A healthy garden’s birds and insects also provide sensory delights from their songs and ceaseless searches for food. The gardener’s experiences might involve relaxing on a garden seat, perhaps with a pleasant drink in hand.
The thought process rises to require a little more energy as the gardener recalls a missing plant or a previous garden, or reminisces about childhood experiences in the garden. Nostalgia is usually a positive experience when we suppress any negative memories.
Another elevation of the energy level occurs when the gardener becomes a critic of the garden, generating a mental catalog of plant selection winners and losers, design successes and weaknesses, and a schedule of garden tasks.
The highest notch of thinking energy is achieved while planning garden development. This creative exercise includes envisioning a new landscape, drawing on a mental inventory of desired plants and garden structures, projecting the time required to achieve the results, and estimating investments of dollars.
Tar Bush (Eremophila glabra “Kalbarri Carpet”) is a lovely ground cover shrub, with dense soft grey foliage and beautifully contrasting yellow-gold flowers loved by birds and other nectar feeders. It grows quite low, and can spread up to two yards. A member of the Figwort plant family (Scrophulariaceae).(Courtesy Bill Bishoff)
Thinking about gardening relates well to the experts’ summary of contributors to your personal form of happiness. The first is a sense of control and autonomy over one’s life. That could be an elusive goal in our challenging lives, but the gardener has sole control over his or her garden.
The second contributor to happiness, as cited by experts, is being guided by meaning and purpose. As you think about developing your garden, consider your ideas for the garden’s meaning and purpose.
An effort to determine the meaning of the garden opens the door to a philosophical inquiry, along the lines of “what is the meaning of life.” That might be interesting for you, but I propose instead working on a set of goals for garden development.
While you might have a single goal, you’re more likely to have several intentions or purposes for your garden. If you put them in order, you could focus on the top three.
Here are some examples of goals for garden development:
• A resource for meditating or reducing the pressures of daily life;
• A “blank canvas” for creating garden vignettes or beautiful landscapes;
• A showcase to charm visitors or compete for awards, or both;
• A setting for recreation, including gardening, exercising, or engaging in backyard sports;
• Conforming to the aesthetic standards of the neighborhood or homeowner association;
• Gaining financial benefits from growing edibles for personal use, growing ornamentals for sale, or raising property value.
Spider Net Grevillea (Grevillia preissii subsp. Glabrilimba) is an attractive small shrub that grows between 1–3 ft. high, although prostrate forms do occur. Produces a profusion of bright red pendulous flowers occurs in large clusters. Like most Grevilleas, the flowers attract honey-eating birds. Good variety for coastal gardens or sandy soil. (Courtesy Bill Bishoff)
Some homeowners will express their garden development objective as “minimal maintenance.” This might be an understandable goal for the garden, especially for someone who lacks the time, energy, interest, or resources to develop and maintain a garden.
First, this objective constitutes avoidance behavior and not a purpose for the garden. Again, while it might be an appropriate direction for some individuals, it misses the opportunity to gain happiness through gardening.
Second, if garden development and maintenance seem burdensome or even overwhelming, a responsive strategy would be to limit the size of the garden to a manageable size: a small bed, a deck, or a balcony.
The strategy should include plans for areas that support plant life. Possibilities include developing low-maintenance native grasses or installing hardscape. A large property could have space for a tennis court or swimming pool.
Third, if that strategy doesn’t satisfy, the gardener should consider moving to a home without a garden area, and turning the property over to a gardener.
Next week’s column will bookend today’s topic, “Thinking About Gardening.” We’ll move on to another clean-hands activity, “Learning About Gardening.”
By the way, the third contribution to happiness is connecting with others, which we will address later in this “Gardening for Happiness” series.
Advance your gardening knowledge
A reader has recommended a well-regarded book about ways in which gardening yields gratification and satisfaction, feelings that are closely related to happiness. The book is organized around—and attuned to—the year’s four seasons, with related thoughts in each section. “Cultivating Sacred Space: Gardening for the Soul,” (1997) by Elizabeth Murray.
An imminent opportunity to add to your gardening skills: the local chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers will present “Grafting workshop: Create Your Own Apple Tree” on Sunday from 2-5 p.m. Attendees will learn about the basics of grafting, practice grafting cuts on provided pieces of wood, and then select an apple scion and graft it to an apple rootstock, which will be provided. Bring your own grafting knife, if you have one. Workshop attendance is free for CRFG members and costs $25 for non-members. The event will be held at the Santa Cruz Live Oak Grange, 1900 17th Avenue, Santa Cruz.
The Cactus & Succulent Society of America will present the webinar, “What Does Heaven Look Like?”, at 10 a.m., Saturday. The presenter will be Attila Kapitany, well known for his knowledge and passion for cacti and succulents, with over 38 years of experience growing and enthusiastically marketing such plants. His intro to this webinar: “While I, by no means, have a crystal ball or know what each of we growers and collectors have in mind with our plants and why we desire them, I have a long history of visiting and questioning people about such things while also photographing their collections and gardens! Habitat scenes will also be included. So this is a pictorial treat with my thoughts and observations about different concepts of a cactus and succulent Paradise!”
To register for this free event, browse to cactusandsucculentsociety.org.
One example of a systematic approach to advancing your gardening knowledge is The Online Gardening academy, a series of individually available fee-based virtual workshops presented by national gardening expert Joe Lamp’l. Current offerings include Beginning Gardener Fundamentals; The Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class; Managing Pests, Diseases, and Weeds; Growing Epic Tomatoes; and Master Seed Starting. A new workshop Organic Vegetable Gardening, will be available in the spring of 2023. For details, browse to organicgardeningacademy.com/.
Narrow-leaved Phebalium (Phebalium stenophyllum) is another member of the Citrus plant family (Rutaceae). A small shrub with scaly branchlets, narrow oblong to (more or less) cylindrical leaves, and yellow flowers in umbels of three to ten. (An umbel is a flower cluster in which stalks spring from a common center and form a flat or curved surface.) The generic name, Phebalium, comes from the Greek term for a fig. (Courtesy Bill Bishoff)
Another option for online learning is Fine Gardening magazine’s multiple virtual resources, many of which are free of charge. Visit their website, finegardening.com, to review the video recordings, webinars, podcasts and courses on a range of gardening topics.
This week’s photo category
All of the photos in this week’s column are natives of Australia, as you might have realized, but the particular category is Australian winter bloomers. A selection of winter bloomers from the southern hemisphere would have been a more challenging category, but these photos are all from the Australian Rock Garden at the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden. The photos were created in January 2023 by Bill Bishoff, the Arboretum’s excellent volunteer photographer. Thanks, Bill!
Enjoy your garden!
Tom Karwin is a past president of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, a past president and Lifetime Member of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). He is now a board member of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society, and active with the Pacific Horticultural Society. To view daily photos from his garden, https://www.facebook.com/ongardeningcom-566511763375123/. For garden coaching info and an archive of On Gardening columns, visit ongardening.com.