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!]


luksky said...

You are so right! I never realized until I just read your post that it's not the gardening part of yard work I hate....it's the 'work" part of yard work that I find drudgery in.

SomeLikeItHot said...

Thanks for sharing. You definitely brought a different perspective that I hadn't thought of before.

Pam/Digging said...

Maybe it's time to switch out the lawn for a sedge lawn, or something else that doesn't require reqular mowing?

TexasDeb said...

It still irks me to have to pull nutgrass. It so rarely really works and stoop labor is not much better than pushing a mower. I'd almost put weeding in its own category.

The big yardwork/gardening difference to me is between imposing a monoculture on an area and working within a multiculture (including the blasted nutgrass). Trying to support a monoculture will always require lots of work (think world domination) and working within a multiculture will always yield surprises, some of them unpleasant (think nutgrass).

Mary Beth said...

For me the difference is in the attitude (and my attitude usually has to do with whether or not I get to work at a leisurely pace). Gardening is fun and yardwork is a chore.

Lori said...

I've found that I tend to define yardwork as "stuff I don't enjoy" and gardening as "stuff I do enjoy." Or yardwark as "stuff I do for the neighbors" and gardening as "stuff I do for me."

Mowing can fall into either category depending on the weather and my mood. Sometimes I just want to see physical evidence that I've accomplished something, and mowing and edging provide that boost instantly.

That said, I cannot freaking wait until I can kill my front lawn and replace it with flowerbeds and decomposed granite paths. I think a patch of lawn in the back is enough for psychological mowing purposes!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I am so with you. Years ago, when I bought my first house, my dad bought me an old used (read "pull string starter" mower). I spent hours in the sun just trying to get the piece of junk to start. Since that time, I have never mown my own yard. I do the gardening, I put in beds, add edging, move rocks around, dig holes, spread mulch, whatever, but I do not mow. Nor do I iron, by the way :) There are people who can do that for me and it's SO worth it.

ConsciousGardener said...

I've gotten my yard down to two manageable spots as well...the goal is to get rid of it once and for all. I will have to say that even though mowing and edging are not high on my list of favorite gardening chores, they are very rewarding once finished...if the edges are shaggy, I can hardly look at the rest of the plan. And, they bring on a good sweat so there is something internally cleansing about it as well...

Cris said...

Nice info I found reading your blog. It's so simple yet I never realized it til I read this blog.

bigHAIR said...

If you ever decide to go on that field trip for research on gardens around the world, count me in!!! I especially LOVE Italian Gardens.

Cheryl said...

Hi. Just stumbled upon your blog and really enjoy it! I've often compared mowing to shaving my legs. It's just a constant bother! The grass in my backyard will be gone before the end of the summer.