A gardener by definition

When Don Cherry was fired from Coach’s Corner, a couple of months ago, there was quite a stir created. Hockey was on everyone’s radar, even non-believers. One frequently asked question was this, “Does hockey define us as Canadians?”

Hockey fans might think so.

We are hockey fans and we relate to the notion that the sport helps to define us as a nation.

But hockey is only part of the recipe for our country. There are many other ingredients.

We think that Canada is a nation of gardeners, to a greater extent than we are hockey fans and players.

We dig, plant, mulch, sow, fertilize and grow stuff. This time of year, we plan our garden for the upcoming season. We are active and engaged.

Most of all, we are nurturers.

We take the resources that nature handed us and use them to create something beautiful, useful and altogether temporary. Unlike sculpting or oil painting, our art form begins to change the day that we do it. Perhaps that is why we never stop being engaged by it. There is always something to do in the garden when temperatures rise a little above freezing.

What is this past time we call gardening, if not just a vessel for our activity to make the world a better place one balcony or yard at a time? With apologies to a bank that uses this expression in their marketing, we suggest that gardeners are richer than they think.

It is true that you can grow your own vegetables and fruit and save money.

But that is not the point. The point is that the experience of gardening enriches us in ways that are impossible to measure and hard for non-gardeners to imagine.

We bend and twist over the soil and become more flexible.

We dig and mow and our lungs gain capacity.

We read gardening columns, gather information online and plan our next garden. Our minds expand as we test the elasticity of our imagination to create living space that produces myriad benefits that were mostly unintentional.

The result is that pollinators arrive in our outdoor spaces with appetites for nectar and pollen.

Birds visit to forage, mate and build a nest.

Our trees absorb the sounds of the city and produce much needed oxygen.

Our herbs and vegetable gardens are full of such bounty that we are forced to either share the excess or build a larger compost.

Beyond the material benefits of gardening, there is so much more in it for us, the gardeners.

 The people who visit gardens, do the work and take the time to listen to the wind in the trees, enjoy a form of wealth that no investment advisor can help you obtain.

Canadian writer Jenny Morber put it this way, “Sitting (outdoors) is such a delicious gift to ourselves. It is good for us to notice, to imagine, to lose time, to let our minds out for a walk.”

Gardening is more than sitting, to be sure.

However, when dusk is falling and the work is done, the sweetest moment of the day comes to the gardener who spent much of it investing in her natural surroundings and takes the time to just sit for a while.

That is gardening in its finest hour (to steal yet another saying, this time from Winston Churchill).

And regardless of what the hockey commentators tell you, sport does not have a lock on being Canadian.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.