11 May 2009
Yardwork vs. Gardening
I grew up a boy in Suburban America in the 1970s and 80s, which much like the few decades before and since then, meant that I was required to do yardwork. Seas of clipped grass inevitably surrounded our houses, and if I wanted any allowance, one of my chores was getting out there and trimming and shaping that lawn. Of all the chores, I hated mowing the lawn the most. Vacuuming was almost just as bad, but at least it was inside, away from the damp heat of South Carolina and Houston.
Lately, I’ve begun pulling out the reel mower (you know, the old-fashioned, eco-friendly push kind that looks really romantic) to trim down our lawn. The summer season is upon us. Thankfully, we’ve slowly decreased the size of our St. Augustine lawn to two very small patches, one in back and one in front. I also have to pull out the string trimmer to go around those pesky edges.
It still sucks.
Let’s face it, mowing the lawn is one of the crappiest chores that ever existed. And though I try to feel Zen about the push mower and do feel relatively good about not spewing forth carbon dioxide from any place other than the exhale from my lungs, it still sucks.
There is the occasional calming swish swish of the twirling blades, but just when I settle into a groove, that baby gets clogged. By a stick. Or a twig. Or a single damn blade of grass. Ooo, what a pain.
So it has made me think about the psychological difference between "yardwork" and "gardening." Yardwork seems so very Male America, I think, and akin in many ways to “landscaping.” It’s all about lawns, lawns and more lawns. It’s about fertilizing and applying pesticides. Trimming and bagging.
Gardening, on the other hand, implies that one has a more intimate connection with the property. It means nurturing, pruning, weeding, planting, digging, growing and getting down on your knees in the middle of it all to find a praying mantis egg case growing amongst the vines. Gardening is still hard work, arguably more work than yardwork. It pricks me, makes me sweat, gives me sore muscles, and draws out blisters.
But gardening implies connection. Yardwork implies domination.
Thankfully, I come from a family that appreciates the idea of gardening, even though we might have never called it that.
My grandmother on my dad’s side was an amazing gardener with a property in Charlotte, N.C. There she produced enough fresh vegetables and fruit for a small village. She had amazing perennial beds, huge magnolias – the works. And, until moving to Houston, we almost always had a vegetable garden and plenty of perennials skirting around the house. (Still, the lawns dominated. Even at my grandmother's. It was Suburbia after all.)
It's possible that this dichotomy between yardwork and gardening is all a matter of perspective, a difference between being an adult nurturing a property that is my own rather than a child forced to labor for another's (parents included, unfortunately. Hi Mom!). But I do think there is something there, either with the language or just the action of mowing itself. Mowing is generally the one thing that still really feels like a chore to me in my own garden.
I don’t know. Maybe this yardwork versus gardening is an American thing. The English seem pretty happy to call it gardening, and no less macho. It’s a question that will require further thought, or even better, a research trip around the world so that I can better understand gardening across cultures. Anyone got any funding out there?
In the meantime, I’ll curse every time I have to dominate our two small patches of lawn with the mower, and look forward to the day that we’ve just finally removed it all in favor of a garden over a yard.
[Full Disclosure: John has his moments of saintliness, and he generally does the mowing chore instead of me. Thanks babe!]