As Cicero is quoted as saying, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
No doubt, Cicero was referring to a library full of books about everything but gardening. Those non-gardening books, let’s call them “the classics” for simplicity sake, can teach us values that we can apply to the garden – values like: hard work, patience, generosity.
But the “classics” don’t teach us the difference between a Viburnum and a Hydrangea, or the botanical names of all the vegetables in our garden, or the twelve orders of soil taxonomy.
For that kind of information, we seek out gardening books.
Gardening books can indeed teach us about shrubs, growing vegetables, and soil. They can inspire us with pictures, with stories of the successes of other gardeners, and with descriptions of mouth watering tomatoes that we can grow in our very own gardens, if we have a bit of good dirt in some full sun and enough warm days, but not too many hot nights, for the tomatoes to ripen.
Gardening books are good to have in our libraries.
But learning about gardening from books is not the same as learning how to garden in a garden.
To learn to garden, we need to set aside the books, both the classics and the gardening books, and even the classic gardening books, take up our spades and go out into our gardens and start digging.
That’s the only way to truly learn to garden, to become a gardener.
We need to sow seeds, watch them grow, harvest the fruit, clean up the garden after the frost, as the last of the squash bug nymphs scurry out of reach. We need to dig, prune, weed, and sometimes re-dig, say oops when we prune the wrong branch, and then say frass when we pull out a plant we thought was a weed but turns out to be the very plant we carefully planted just the week before.
That’s how we become gardeners.