Pluralism in the garden


Over dinner, a friend lamented that she usually has seeds in the ground by this time in March. She was worried about being late this year. I haven’t planted a single seed yet either, but I replied that it didn’t worry me at all. We had very different opinions about the importance of early planting dates.

What later struck me as remarkable about that conversation was that our differing opinions were weightless -- they didn’t carry the slightest whiff of judgment or discomfort.

That’s because we both know that every person gardens in their own way, guided by their own knowledge, tastes, and beliefs. Some of us approach gardening as a science, others as an art, still others as the continuation of a family or cultural tradition. Most of us probably mix up all three of those approaches and add our own quirks.

Gardeners mostly appreciate those differences. Often, we learn from them and try something new. Once in a while, we might raise an eyebrow, but I have never heard of a fistfight or even a heated argument breaking out over when to plant pea, or a social media scandal about clashing colors in a flowerbed.

Gardening is a welcome refuge from division, polarization, and crabbiness. If you grow fabulous roses, we can happily bond over their beauty and your growing techniques rather than arguing about who we voted for. If you were inspired by a Black friend to grow collard greens, you’re the richer for it. Pluralism thrives in the garden.

Gardening can also stimulate enduring friendships across the lines of culture, politics, race, and every other way we categorize each other. Sometimes those friendships – I’m thinking of a neighbor here – are constrained by the need to avoid talking about politics. My neighbor and I disagree about nearly everything in that realm. Still, even when those ramparts are occasionally breached, I learn something more about how he – and a lot of other people – think. Mostly, I hold my tongue and change the subject.

Our friendship rests on years of conversations about topics like dandelions, tree pruning, blueberries, and a magnificent noble fir tree he planted years ago. Sometimes we branch out and talk about our families or the weather. Our friendship also has practical benefits: Once a year, he edges my grass with his power tool, and I make him a strawberry-rhubarb pie with rhubarb from his garden.

All that has helped both of us see that even though we have vast differences in some of our values, life experiences and perspectives, we both strive to be good-hearted humans who care about each other and the world around us. That’s a lot to have in common.

Also, as many of us have been reminded by the movie “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” there is more than one universe, both inside us and outside us. We are all complicated and multi-dimensional. That, too, is a lot to have in common.

Gardening grounds us – literally. Maybe that’s why it makes us a little more open to all those who share our fondness for planting seeds, watching plants grow, and marveling at the miracles of a living world.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers, and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com 


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  • KarenTvedt

    Love your columns, Jill. Despite vast differences of opinion on religion and politics, I connect with some of my closest relatives over peas, fig trees and softneck vs. hardneck garlic. Karen

    Saturday, March 18 Report this