Becoming A Gardener

By Teo Spengler | May 8, 2022
Image by Cleardesign1
by Teo Spengler
May 8, 2022

When you get a degree or get married or divorced, it’s easy to pinpoint the date of the event. I “became” a lawyer when I passed the Bar Exam. I “became” a mother when my child was born. But when “becoming” involves the slow, steady, falling in love with an activity, the incremental accumulation of skills and knowledge, it is harder. 

When did I become a writer? I was a writer decades before my first novel was published, years before I got my MFA in creative writing. When did I become a gardener? The best answer I can give is that it happened, or started happening, sometime after I moved to France.

Becoming a Gardener

Unlike becoming a divorced person or becoming a teacher or lawyer, no official moment indicates when the status is attained. Sure, it’s possible to become a Master Gardener here in California, but, generally, one is a gardener long before signing up for the Master Gardener program.

What is the threshold that you cross to “become” a gardener? It’s got to be more than the awkward planting of a first vegetable garden. It can’t line up with reading an initial article about plants. To me, becoming a gardener is more like becoming an adult than anything else- you know when you weren’t one and you know that you are one now, and the in-between time is the long bridge to becoming.

When I Wasn’t a Gardener

For me, I know that I wasn’t a gardener before I moved to France. That’s because I had no interest in plants. I lived in a third-floor flat in San Francisco’s crowded Haight Ashbury district in a building that had no yard whatsoever. That is, no front yard, no back yard. We even needed an easement from the neighbors for a piece of yard to put our garbage cans.

But even had Flats Waller (the name of the building) been blessed with a yard, I probably wouldn’t have planted anything. I was a trial lawyer, I had my own firm, and I worked day and night the weeks before court. The few houseplants I received as gifts suffered and it didn’t bother me. This last fact established that I wasn’t a gardener.

Move to France

The watershed of my life occurred when I had a child, sold my flat and started my move to France. I had bought a little stone cottage on a mountain with lots of sloping land and no close neighbors and I began to care about plants. It was partly the expanse of wild nature around me, partly being the mother of a little daughter who asked lots of questions.

Together we put acorns in soil, then flower seeds. Then we planted our first vegetable garden. I began to love my plants and mourn for the houseplants I had killed. All in all, I planted over 200 trees on my land in France. 

Sometime in that period, I started reading up about plants, asking neighbors how they dealt with garden issues. I slowly fell in love with the idea of helping plants to thrive. In the middle of this process, at some point, I crossed over to become a gardener. Today, I have no hesitation in taking that title, but when I earned it is another matter.

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