Slow Gardening

A philosophical approach to gardening seeks joy in everyday tasks and shared successes.

April 16, 2013

Being a 10th-generation Southerner, I am about as laid-back as a gardener can be. But when I dig in, I am hard-core, because how I choose to approach gardening is as important as what I produce. I refer to this thoughtful strategy as Slow Gardening.

It’s funny to me how quickly some folks assume that Slow Gardening means benign neglect, if not outright laziness. My method is actually highly personal, aimed at knowing what I am doing and why; it’s finding interest and even bliss in little details and enjoying all my senses through all seasons. It focuses on process—the here and now—being as important as end results.


This garden-intense concept evolved while I worked in Italy with folks from Slow Food International, a group started in the 1980s by convivial connoisseurs who savor producing, preparing, and consuming traditional in-season dishes. Slow Food’s basic tenets apply perfectly to gardening: using sustainable methods to produce and share what is well suited for your particular climate and culture.

It’s a no-brainer, comparing modern gardens to how we eat. Just as fast food lured us away from good home cooking, the “mow-and-blow” landscaping style has made it convenient to outsource our basic gardening pleasures. Slow Gardening harks back to when gardening was a collaboration between humans and nature, not paid-for instant gratification.

Slow Gardening is a big, inclusive tent in which everyone—regardless of skill or investment—is welcome. You don’t have to be in lockstep with neighbors. Backyard dabblers with just a pot of basil or a bird feeder are on par with enthusiasts who tend fence-to-fence horticultural wonderlands.

When practicing Slow Gardening, reason doesn’t have to rule. I am seeing meadows replacing lawns and vegetable plots cropping up in previously manicured suburbs. Raised beds and container kitchen gardens of mixed vegetables, herbs, and flowers are becoming the rage. With today’s liberated gardeners wanting to garden as much for the fun of it as for tangible rewards, rules and traditions are falling by the wayside.

Robert Herrick hit the nail on the head: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Your garden provides lots of opportunities to step off the treadmill and kick back. Think about how the following slow approaches can help you savor your garden more:

  • Grow plants that thrive in your climate and that provide something for you and wildlife through all seasons.
  • Include plants for evening enjoyment, and certainly some edibles for satisfying home-grown food.
  • Spread out your chores; make gardening part of a daily routine instead of overloading spring or weekends.
  • Develop a long-term, relaxing garden pursuit such as bonsai or topiary, growing cut flowers, collecting or hybridizing cultivars of a favorite plant, composting, or beekeeping.
  • Go green. Put the sun to work with a clothesline; make a compost bin or neat leaf pile; save some rainwater. When practical, choose quiet hand tools over noisy power equipment.
  • Use your camera (or smart phone) to get more intimate with your garden and share its successes with others. (See Florence Rodale’s tips, p. 44.)
  • Garden for all the senses. Carefully select and display sculpture or other garden art for all-year inspiration.
  • Propagate “pass-along” plants to share with family and friends.
  • Design your landscape for comfort. Include weatherproof seating and walkways; provide for summer shade and winter wind protection. Include a fire pit and waterfall as part-time relief from television.
  • Ponder the mysteries of the universe in the microcosm of your own yard.

Life is filled with pressures; why include them in the garden? Slow Gardening helps us get more from the garden while appreciating how our leisure time and resources are spent. It teaches us to savor the long haul and share it with others. I am inspired by a saying attributed to Danish philosopher S¯ren Kierkegaard: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” Spread the word! —Felder Rushing

Felder Rushing is the author of Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and Seasons (Chelsea Green, 2011).

Photo: Felder Rushing