Columnist Tom Atwell. See that smile? Gardening is never drudgery for Atwell. Portland Sunrise Rotary Club photo

Some gardeners don’t enjoy gardening. They like plants and the way those plants look in their gardens. They may even take pride in the results of the work that they do. But they dread the drudgery, the insects, the labor and dirtiness of actually tending the plants.

This was brought home to me by a Facebook posting from Kathy Eliscu, a friend who decades ago wrote freelance articles for special sections I edited in this newspaper about aging people – named at various times “Senior Living,” “Seniority” and even “Boomers,” which wasn’t the insult then that it has since become.

Eliscu had just come inside after working in her garden on a warm, buggy day when she wrote a slightly grumpy post and added a photo of her just planted raised garden beds.  “CONFESSION: I really don’t like the tasks of gardening. Dirt, sweat, bugs… but I love the outcome. Here is the beginning of my little garden spot.

My immediate response, a response my wife, Nancy, says is way too common, was, “Maybe I could write a column about that.”

I absolutely enjoy the time I spend in the garden. For me, the best times are harvesting vegetables and cutting flowers to bring inside, but planting – whether seedlings or seeds – is also a pleasure.

I even enjoy weeding, mostly because it is mindless, so I can let my mind wander to future columns, fishing trips, travel plans, music I want to listen to, or books I want to read. Sometimes I go into a sort of trance, a relaxing experience. And when I go inside for a break and see what I’ve accomplished, I feel a sense of pride.

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Somebody on Facebook responded to Kathy’s post by comparing gardeners to knitters. Some knitters want the sweater or the scarf, while others love the process of knit purl knit purl.

Nancy often listens to recorded books while she is gardening. I tried that, but found that I would stop comprehending what I was listening to because I was concentrating on the gardens. She is much better at multitasking than I am. I can listen to radio broadcasts of sporting events, though, because they don’t require my full attention. I have to pay attention only when the announcers sound excited.

In an online conversation after her initial post, Kathy wrote, “I have a case of ‘peer pressure gardening.’ I love the way a beautiful garden looks but I am not fond of the work involved.”

Pain from an old neck and back injury doesn’t help matters, she said. “I kind of begrudgingly go through the motions of getting it planted,” she wrote. “And I absolutely love the outcome.”

She noted that her late husband, Ted White, was an amazing gardener who created wonderful gardens at their home. Part of the gardening she does is in his memory, and she takes special care of the plants around his gravestone at Evergreen Cemetery. Kathy has published a memoir, co-written with her late husband, titled “Brain Tumor: A Love Story,” tracing their lives from his diagnosis in 2011 until his death.

The good news is there are some things you can do to help eliminate the miserable parts of gardening. The first is to protect yourself from mosquitos and other biting insects. I always wear socks and slacks treated with Permethrin, which are designed to prevent tick bites but also work on mosquitos and black flies. I also spray my face, neck and arms with insect repellent.

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Because I am light-skinned, I always wear a baseball cap and put sunscreen on my ears and arms. I had too many sunburns in my youth, and I don’t want to go through that kind of pain again.

Be mindful of the weather. I’m a Mainer and can layer up and be perfectly comfortable gardening when it is 40 degrees out, but when it gets to 80 degrees, I only do what is absolutely necessary, like harvesting tomatoes, peppers, strawberries or raspberries before they go by.

Buy and use good tools, no trowels that bend or dull hand pruners. Try to check your tools each winter and replace then when they bend or break, or arrange to have your tools sharpened. It makes gardening a lot more pleasant.

And when you find yourself getting tired, take a break. The work will still be there tomorrow. Get yourself a nice chair to use after gardening: Sit and enjoy what you’ve created.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: tomatwell@me.com.


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