We so often focus on the benefits of gardening: the harvests of fresh, healthy vegetables, the joys of beautiful flower beds and landscapes, even the resulting exercise and time spent in the fresh air of the great outdoors. But there’s one benefit we don’t so often mention, despite its prevalence and importance: Social contact!
Whether formal or informal, gardening brings people together. I learned this lesson early, joining my grandfather in his garden plot, walking over to the poor excuse of a fence and talking to the neighbor there in his garden plot. Things were passed over that fence throughout the entire season — onion starts and extra seed in the spring, tomatoes, corn and squash in the late summer. In the middle of summer? An occasional beer. But the most important commodity that was exchanged was neighborly-ness in the form of gardening advice, talk of the weather, or just an agreeable back-and-forth.
I remember the day it occurred to me what the phrase “over the garden fence” meant. Our local television channel had a five minute feature at the end of the noon news, right after the farm report, called “Over the Garden Fence.” A local seed grower sat in front of a fuzzy, black-and-white backdrop of an extensive garden and answered questions mailed in by the viewers. It was exactly what grandpa and the neighbor did. Not surprisingly, that’s the only place they ever had a chance to talk unless they bumped into each other at the local market or nursery. Gardening gave them the opportunity.
We also know that gardening is among the best family activities. Kids love being part of the gardening process and the activities aren’t only educational but encourage good work habits. The fun carries on right to the dinner table. Kids are more likely to try, if not love, healthy vegetables that they helped grow. Even Brussels sprouts.
These informal activities may be the ones we think about and cherish most. But there’s a whole world of formal gardening practices, from clubs to farmers’ markets and seed exchanges, that encourage meaningful social contact in the service of growing flowers and vegetables. And the end result of these organizations often benefit other organizations, including food banks, church programs, and youth projects. These groups truly bring people together. They’re often involved in championing organic practice, sustainable farming, and water conservation as well. And sometimes they do it just for the fun and the chance to work with like-minded gardeners.
Here’s the latest newsletter from Planet Natural’s hometown gardening club. Notice their participation in the local farmers market and all the people they thank for contributing to a successful season. Notice the abundance they seem to have harvested, and the local businesses that have offered their produce for sale. And, finally, go to the very end to discover one of the real benefits of gardening clubs everywhere — gardening tips.
There’s no better way to learn the art and craft of gardening, especially as applied to your local environment, than a gardening club… and they’re everywhere! In this tech-happy world of ours, you can even find a way to share gardening advice the new-fangled way. We still prefer the old-fashioned way — how would grandpa ever passed that cold beer to the neighbor while discussing their potato crop online? But there’s also a lot of valuable over-the-garden-fence information being shared on social media. Why not get involved in both?