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Raising Consciousness

Tending a garden lets us sow the seeds for cultivating relationships, finding out about ourselves and reconnecting with the earth.

March 21, 1998|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One September evening several years ago when I was nine months' pregnant with my daughter, my husband found me outside in the twilight digging in a flower bed.

"Are you coming in soon?" Greg asked, peering into the night. "Should you even be doing that?"

"I'll be in soon," I promised him. "I'm fine. This isn't strenuous at all."

Of course I should be doing this, I thought, as I gently removed geraniums from cramped 4-inch pots and planted them to roam free in the warm soil.

Greg wasn't thinking of the plants. As a matter of fact, he often forgets them. He's a computer programmer, more attuned to the hardscape and hardware of life. Me, I'm the farmer in the house. When Greg looks out at our landscape, he sees where the house needs paint. I look outdoors and note where we need more plants.

At times he does notice plants when they bump into him. Then he doesn't have nice things to say. But overall, Greg is very easygoing about living with a farmer. He smells the plants I shove under his nose and helps me cart horse manure home. He even built me a potting bench, installed outdoor lighting so I could garden at night and made compost when I was pregnant with my twin sons three years ago.

What Greg doesn't quite understand is that plants are like children to farmers. They bustle at the backdoor for water and food and constantly invite the gardener to forget the chores and go outside and play. When they get nibbled by pests, such as cutworms or snails, they need extra TLC. And they constantly change, grow and even rebel. For the farmer in the house, plants are a consuming passion that transcends other interests.

"People can't understand my passion for growing roses, although they will spend hours and hours on their own hobbies," says Lillian Biesiadecki, a consulting rosarian for the American Rose Society and a horticultural judge who grows about 400 roses for exhibition in her Newport Beach garden.

"When people ask me what I do and I tell them I grow roses, their eyes glaze over and they don't know what to say."

Corona del Mar landscape architect Erik Katzmaier has received the same response.

"Some people don't know what I'm talking about when I mention plants and their soil requirements," he says. "I might as well be speaking a foreign language."

The way University of California master gardener Jill Dale sees it, she could have far worse vices than gardening.

"I could be out shopping for clothes all the time and maxing out my credit cards, but instead my passion is plants," says Dale, a self-professed fanatic.

"Although my husband is glad I enjoy gardening, I know he often wonders why I keep getting more plants. I think he'd like to know when I'll finally be done. What he doesn't realize is that there is no 'done' in gardening. The yard is an ever-changing canvas just waiting to be painted. Telling a gardener not to garden is like telling an artist not to paint."

Dale's co-workers are even more mystified than her husband by her passion for plants.

"I'm a nurse, and I was sitting outside of the hospital with some of my co-workers at lunch the other day when I noticed a nearby hibiscus," she says. "Gardeners know that these are notorious for attracting giant whiteflies, so I turned over a leaf to see if it had any. Everyone looked at me like I was completely daft."

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Non-farmers are often bewildered by farmers who gladly toil in the garden for hours every weekend.

"A lot of people think of gardening as a job. My neighbors often ask me, 'Why don't you get a gardener to do all the work?' They don't realize it's not a chore to me," says Dale.

Says Santa Ana gardener Marc LaFont: "Those of us for whom gardening is a passion wouldn't entrust our gardens to anyone else. For us, gardening is a hobby. I try to explain this by asking people this question: If you really enjoyed building model airplanes, would you consider hiring someone to come in and do it for you? It's not the finished product in gardening, it's the process."

Farmers come from all walks of life and backgrounds. And they spot one another quickly.

"When you meet another gardener, an instant rapport develops. It's like being in a secret club," says Carrie Teasdale, who gardens on 6,000-square feet in Fullerton.

"I've found that gardeners are kindred spirits. They know the joy of planting and seeing things grow. They're often honest, genuine people who aren't worried about social status. Many are generous and offer cuttings and seeds to whoever visits their gardens."

Farmers also tend to be enthusiastic, and their interest can rub off on family and friends.

"My wife and I have given up much of our backyard to Carrie's garden," says Robert Teasdale. "It's certainly been interesting seeing her grow the garden. I liken it to watching a pianist when you don't play yourself."

Farmers often create the most stares in the area of pest control.

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