What Makes a Gardener?

What is it that makes someone a gardener?

I was talking to someone who was planning to retire in a few years. She proudly announced, “My husband is buying me a greenhouse for my retirement!” My response, “I didn’t know you liked to garden.” Her answer, “Oh, I don’t really garden, but my husband thinks I might like to when I retire.”

I had a sinking feeling her greenhouse would be an empty greenhouse.

How many people buy all the tools or toys for a new hobby or activity that they’ve never tried before and then find out they weren’t really all that interested in it after all? If someone had never played golf or shown any prior interest in it, would anyone recommend they go out and buy some golf clubs and a cart to see if they like it? If someone thought they might like to garden, should they go out and buy a greenhouse to see if they like working with plants? Hardly!

I assume that anyone who buys a greenhouse already has a passion for plants and growing things and has previously acted upon that passion in other ways. They are compelled to garden, even without a greenhouse. Would someone suddenly develop that desire to garden after buying a greenhouse, if they’ve never gardened before?

So, what makes a gardener?

Do you consider yourself a gardener? How did you decide you were a gardener?

When is the first time you referred to yourself as a gardener? Where and how did you learn to be a gardener?

Has anyone ever introduced you to someone else as a gardener?

When someone tells you they are a gardener, what image of them does it bring to mind? What do you expect of them?

Can a gardener live where there is no place to plant anything, and still remain a gardener?

What about horticulturists? Are they a subset of “gardeners” or a whole different group?

I'm thinking about why some people are gardeners and other aren't, and how buying a greenhouse won't suddenly make someone a gardener.

(Note, the person I talked to came back later and said she wasn't going to get a greenhouse after all because she realized she was not a gardener. So all the gardeners reading this can relax. There is not an empty greenhouse out there someplace, waiting for you to rescue it, take it to your house and load it up with plants. By the way, does every gardener just naturally want a greenhouse?)


  1. The first time I thought of myself as a gardener was when I identified a plant by it's Latin name. Our garden club was walking thru the greenhouse at the Botanic Garden.
    The girls I was with looked at me like I had sprouted another head.
    They called me "Professor" the rest of the day.

  2. Though I've been gardening for 12 years, I don't believe I ever referred to myself as a gardener until about two years ago. People who came over to my house might say something nice about my garden, and I'd say, "Thanks, it's a hobby of mine." What I didn't admit--and what must have been obvious to the visitor--was that gardening was a compulsion for me, and that I loved it.

    I began to realize that my interest was more than a hobby when people would see me reading a book like "Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners" or Jill Nokes's "How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest," and they'd raise their eyebrows. One day I was going on about some plant or another to someone kind enough to listen, and she said, "So, are you a gardener?" Without hesitation I said, "Yes!"

    I learned to be a gardener by trial and error. I wanted to grow things, so I stuck plants in the ground and watched to see what happened. I also read a lot of books about gardening, though these are mostly about design.

    And yes, I do believe a person can be a gardener without a garden--but what an unhappy fate! Still, where there's a will, there's a way. Container gardens, right?

  3. Carol, you are awesome. I needed to say that because you have this knack for asking great questions that let us go on and on about this gardening we love so much. So, you're awesome, even if you are a Hoosier ;-)

    Short answer: I don't think, ever, that buying a greenhouse will make someone fall in love with gardening. Gardening is a love that evolves over time. At first, maybe you have a new house that you need to landscape, so you HAVE to plant stuff. Or maybe your mom or grandfather grew stuff, and you were their apprentice. As time goes on, you try your own things, you figure out what you love, what your own little gardening eccentricities are, and then one day gardening is not an obligation, or someone else's hobby--instead it is one of the great joys in your life. I don't think becoming a gardener can happen instantaneously.

    For a longer answer....I'll think about it on my blog ;-)

  4. Yes Carol, I like the way you are asking us questions, too. But this time, I won't give you a long reply in my comment, I just say: YES, I am definitively a gardener - even tough I have just benn gardening for 2 years. I just love to be outside in my garden, working, relaxing, planning.

    I guess I'll soon write a post on this topic on my blog, and about seeds... ;-))

  5. I want a greenhouse! Last year I ran a community garden, and I started seeds for the plants for all my gardeners in two portable greenhouse shelf thingies in my dining room. At one point I had 292 tomato plants growing, plus peppers, eggplant, and other assorted veg. I'll be gearing up for the garden again in a few weeks - a real greenhouse would be a dream come true!

  6. As Colleen said, great questions. Again. I was going to ask that you limit these great question posts to once a week, but then I went back and checked, and actually, you did wait a week. Gosh, a week goes by fast. If you've got more great questions, please wait two weeks for the next set, okay?

    I'll be answering on my blog again, but it might take me a couple of days. I was starting to get anxious about that empty greenhouse, so it's a good thing you laid the matter to rest at the end of your post.

  7. I like eating out of a garden. I'm just glad I have someone else to do the job. Now all you gardeners, don't put me down. I have other interests that I bet you don't have. So please give me a break.

  8. All, thanks for the comments! It is going to take me personally a while to answer my own questions, so it may be a few weeks, or longer, before I have more questions to ask. Stay tuned!

  9. Carol, great post! Kind of reminds me of the narration of Sarah Jessica Parker on HBO's long run Sex and the City. You know the kind of questions and thought provoking statements that always went into her character's weekly articles. (Hope you watched it) if not you have no clue what I'm talking about! I think TBS has the re-runs on now. Anyway...
    I have gardened probably about 25 years. I think you hit the target exactly when you said they are "compelled" to garden. No matter what the passion, people will find a way to do what they love.

  10. Collen's already written a smashing post - while I haven't evn worked my way through the questions, yet! Carol, your leadership qualities are amazing, you ask great questions and you make all of us think!

    What are you doing in 2008?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  11. I finally allowed myself to read these comments since I wanted to answer the questions before I saw what other gardeners said...great questions that really make you think and bring back nice memories. I've answered the questions over on my blog. Thanks, Carol, for facilitating such great conversations!

  12. I don't think I know which I was first: a scientist or a gardener. All I know is that when I was a little over 3 yrs old, that I used to take the weeds that my parents were pulling out of their vegetable garden, and I'd 'transplant' them into my sandbox. Honest. I remember observing which one's survived better, and which ones didn't. Lambsquarter was always a breeze. My elementary school science fair projects? Almost always about photosynthesis. Sometimes I think I'm less of a gardener-scientist and more of an observer.

  13. The story of the almost greenhouse reminds me of a wonderful son who hired me to turn his recently widowed mother into a gardener (saying he'd LOVE for her to find a hobby). Well, we spent lots of time together and she's now a friend, but she's no gardener and will never be one. Just not the right ersonality at all - she's afraid of insects, very nervous of doing anything wrong, complains about the heat, etc. So maybe gardeners at least have to have outdoorsy personalities and be amenable to nature.

  14. I'm hooked on your surveys! I've posted my answers on my blog. Thanks for giving us all something to blog about too.

  15. Well I don't have a green house and think I am a gardener because I just love to grow things, but that's just my opinion :-). I get a great sense of achievement out of looking after my garden and I think that's where the word nursery comes into it.

  16. I definately consider myself a gardener.To me, a gardener is someone who plants either seeds or established plants,cares for these plants/flowers,and continues to watch/enjoy/care for them through their life cycle.And of course container gardening is included!I believe a true gardener has a passion and love for plants that sets them apart from the person who casually and thoughtlessly purchaces plants and forgets about them.(shameful!)
    Personally,I have never referred to myself as a "gardener",however,my husband has nick-named me "gardenologist" ,a delightful name that merely implies that I know more about plants than he does!
    The only thing I expect of other gardeners is for them to share their ideas,discoveries,and perhaps a clipping or too with others.
    I have kept a "plant journal" for 3 years and wait like an expectant parent for my "babies" to bloom.
    Gardening to me, is a way to relax and enjoy the outdoors,and it's great exercise!

  17. I think becoming a gardener takes time, and that i'm not a gardener yet, but I"m learning. My blog is pretty much my trying to keep a record of how i'm becoming a gardener.
    You asked
    Can a gardener live where there is no place to plant anything, and still remain a gardener?
    My mum (a very keen gardner) has just moved (OK a year ago) into a granny's flat with the whole yard paved. I know she was very concerned that there was no where to garden, (she made me garden) until she realised that she could do more than she ever imagined in pots. So to answer you question yes, they still remain a gardener, they just become more imaginative.

  18. Funny you I should read about this here. I just came across a similar themed thread on the craigslist garden forum.

    Some guy was saying that unless you composted and "moved earth" you weren't really a gardening. I had to restrain myself from flaming him.

    I guess you become a gardener when you think of yourself one. And I for one think you could be a gardener if you lived somewhere and you didn't have a place to plant. I consider "houseplants" an extension of the outdoor garden.

    I realize it's not a popular opinion but it's one I hold.


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