"Gardening?!! That's for women." That is what I was told by one of my NYC childhood friends when I mentioned my new hobby some years back. Though I cannot print my initial response, it did afford me the opportunity to consider gardening and gender.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 27, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
If membership at Dave's Garden is any indication, there remains sizeable gender gap when it comes to gardening. Women outnumber men at DG by about four to one. If the breakdown of actual gardeners is anywhere close to that, it is truly a lopsided distribution. Why is that, and what can be done to 'enlighten' more men? That is what I will attempt to explore.
Why do many men still view gardening as a hobby for women? Is it all about flowers? Is caring for flowers equivalent to eating tofu or sprouts, instead of 'men's food' like dripping red meat and potatoes? Possibly. To those men I say start a 'man's garden'! No flowers permitted. Use only scary looking plants. If you can grow them in your area, try cactus, Euphorbia or Agave. (Oh yeah - and don't ever use botanical names, whatever you do!) You will beam as your neighbor walks by with his rottweiler and nods his approval. Contrary to what women believe, we men can empathize too - we just can't admit it. Spines, thorns and other weapon - like plants show the world that this is a well tended 'man's garden'.
Too far north for those plants? Well how about roses? Roses?!! Don't they have flowers? How can they be permitted? Stay with me guys. Yes, roses have flowers, but we have sharp tools. Imagine the joy you will feel when you go out on that beautiful spring day, whip out your best hunting knife and lop off every annoying little bud you find! Even better - use one that is dull so you mangle the plant in the process. What will be left is a sight that would bring a tear to Conan the Barbarian - a shredded, decapitated pile of thorns. Another northern option is barberry. They have convenient thin thorns that go way into your skin before breaking off. I am sure I still have some from 1998 inside me. Invasive in some areas, you say? Bring on the invasion, the real man says. Now it's getting personal. 'Cultural conditions' and 'amending' don't register with us. But invasion we get. Put these thorny babies beneath the windows and now you're also protecting the women and children. 'Tim the Tool Man' would be grunting away!
Of course no man's garden would be complete without meat eating plants! Do plants get any scarier? How cool is it to have plants with the same food tastes as us? I wonder how they like potatoes. Junior slacking off on the homework? No need for the trip to the woodshed anymore - just tell him 'Walk with me, talk with me', as you casually stroll to the flesh-eating bed. Point out that these babies get much bigger, and remind him that he used to have two older brothers. Bend down and show him the fly that landed on your sandwich yesterday. Ha - he should have done his homework too. Maybe he would have landed on neighbor Bob's sandwich instead.
A bit too sophisticated for this lowbrow approach, guys? Then how about this? Get into gardening just because women are into gardening! News flash for the single guys - the quality of women is better at the nursery than at the bar. Go to an overpriced garden center, find a lady that interests you and start asking the salespeople questions in a loud voice. Say that you a) feel it's time to give back to the earth, or, b) are interested in attracting Nature's creatures to your garden, or even, c) want to use plants to explore your creative side. She'll be drawn to you like flies to your rottweiler's...uh, well you get the point.
Married guys - want to rekindle that spark with the Mrs.? What better way than through your garden? Into working out? Then on your next day off, leave your shirt inside and get out there and double dig that new bed your wife has plans for. Pick a time when you know that stay - at - home mom down the street walks by with her stroller. Your double dig will result in a double whammy. First, your wife will be shocked at your gardening effort, and then, when she meets said stay - at - home mom, who comments on both your body and your new hobby, she will once again look at you with that gleam in her eye. (Hallelujah!!!)
Not into working out? Well gardening is one way to start turning that Michelin Man look into an Adonis look. With all the required walking, bending, stretching, digging, etc., it is a great way to ease into a regular exercise program while improving your home at the same time. Of course you need to be healthy enough to start and should consult your physician. A few of my friends who scoffed at gardening believe driving around in a cart, and taking a few swings at a little white ball actually counts as exercise.
No discussion of men and gardening would be complete without touching on a subject men hold near and dear - beer! Its work is not done once you finish drinking. Let the beer do double duty. Don't flush it away. Why waste water and all that beneficial yeast that beer contains? Take a walk (more exercise!) to the compost pile and help activate those little buggers that get the pile cooking! The nitrogen in your urine will also help the process. This is extra fun in the winter when the steam cloud rises from the pile. Spelling out your name while going is optional, however. I usually get into trouble when I try to cross my 't'. A little 'man's math' lesson - just because number one is good, does not mean number two is better. Adding your pile to the pile is a big no-no.
Gardening truly is a wonder I discovered when I bought my house, and its appeal is the same whatever your gender may be. There is nothing 'feminine' about being privileged to take part in Nature, as opposed to simply witnessing it. Or about nurturing something from feeble beginning to strong, independent maturity. Or about growing your own food and knowing that it's been grown with your labor and love, and not sprayed with some unknown chemical in some far away country, and where transportation equals the number of steps to your door. Last, there is nothing feminine, nor masculine, about both showing faith in the future, and helping assure it, by planting.
Okay - still not convinced guys? Then consider this. Would you rather share your feeeeelings with your lady? Didn't think so. See you in the garden!
My background is in engineering, but these days I am a stay at home dad. I have always loved Nature, but had no idea when I bought my house that I would become the gardening fanatic that I have. Gardening both stimulates and relaxes me, appeals to all my senses and gives me the privilege to be part of the Nature I love.