THE HOW DO GARDENER: The five stages of ‘Grief’ gardening



The last cherry tomatoes of the season. (Photo by Rick Bickling)

Just as life has its seasons, so too does gardening. The seasons of gardening are…, well um…, winter, spring, summer, and fall. Hmm, let me try that one again.

Just as in life, gardening has its peaks and valleys, its ups and downs, its ebbs and flows. You’ve made it through another long winter where you carefully planned what to plant, when to plant it, and how much to plant.

And then, finally, Spring. Remember the thrill of those first warm spring days, when the danger of frost had passed, and you could finally get your hands in the soil to plant. Soon there was the excitement when that first hint of a new plant peaked out from the soil you worked so hard to prepare.

Before you knew it, your first harvest of green beans, that first vine ripe tomato, fresh strawberries. “Gardening is great!” “I love my garden.”

But soon, all of the potatoes need to be harvested. “Will the kids mind if I store them under their beds?” The green bean plants are spent. “What was I going to plant there next?” The pill bugs are eating the strawberries. “How do I get rid of them again?” The lettuce is starting to wilt. “Am I watering too much or not enough? Oh that’s right, I’ll be fined and imprisoned if I actually do try to water my garden.” You’ve inquired into having a phone extension placed in the garden so that friends and loved ones can actually reach you.

Before you realize it, your gardening thoughts have ever so slowly turned from excitement and pleasure to a sense of foreboding and dread. You find yourself lying in bed at night, in a cold sweat, staring at the ceiling, wondering how you are going to get all of your gardening done tomorrow. “The kids can probably get themselves up, make their own breakfast, and get to school on their own. After all, they’re in first grade now.” “If we can just get one more meal out of that bowl of leftover macaroni and cheese I won’t need to go shopping.”

What once was a gentle distraction from the pressures of everyday life has now gotten to the point where you are really looking forward to that trip to the dentist for a root canal because it will give you a break from the garden. In the words of Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

But fear not. You are not alone. All across the land, gardeners everywhere are having the same thoughts of self-doubt and low garden-esteem. To help better understand and deal with your gardening angst, here is my adaptation of the Kübler-Ross Model, commonly known as the The Five Stages Of Grief.


The Five Stages of Grief Gardening:

1. Denial – “Those green beans will be fine, It’s just a few hundred locusts.”; “Squash vine borers, This can’t be happening, not to me.”

2. Anger – “Why my spinach? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me? I’m 100 percent organic”; ‘”Where can I find some DDT?”

3. Bargaining – “Just let me get one more tomato before the birds eat them all”; “I’ll do anything for a few more ears of corn.”; “I promise to install a rainwater harvesting system next year if…”

4. Depression – “I am so tired, why bother pulling weeds at all?”; “I don’t like eggplant all that much anyway… What’s the point?”; “I miss my peppers”

5. Acceptance – “It’s going to be okay.”; “I may as well enjoy canning those 12 bushels of tomatoes.”

Perhaps in better understanding the stages of gardening, and identifying which stage you are in, you will once again find peace in your garden. Of course in the time it took you to read this article, you could have mulched at least a third of your raised beds. What’s wrong with you anyway!? What are you, lazy!? Oops. Sorry about that. I guess I’m still in the anger stage after birds ate my entire blueberry harvest the other day. Let me see, where were we? That’s right. There is no better way to achieve a peaceful state of mind than by gardening.

Disclaimer: No animals were harmed, or small children sent to school without breakfast, in the writing of this article. This is a work of satire. The author really does like gardening. He’ll be much better after the growing season is over. Either that or he will spend all winter complaining about the cold and fussing about how he can’t wait to get back out in the garden come spring.

Rick Bickling is a certified Master Gardener in Williamson County. He has been designing, planting and maintaining landscapes and gardens for more than 30 years. 

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