Why Everyone Should Garden: a Series
March 8, 2017

“The Paterfamilias should think a long time about building, but planting is a thing not be thought about but done.”
Cato the Elder, On Agriculture

I have spoken to many people who have thought about gardening but who have not started to do so. That is why these words of Cato struck me.

I don’t want to be forward, but I respectfully encourage these people to stop thinking and start doing, as Cato suggests. And now is the time of year, for most of us, to move in that direction.

Every local hardware store has seeds. Vegetables that can be planted very early include greens, such as spinach, chard, kale and lettuce; root crops, such as radishes and beets; peas; onion; and the family of cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. In Virginia, now is a great time to plant, on a day the soil is reasonably dry. Especially recommended as straightforward are radishes—which sprout and mature with amazing speed, making them very satisfying for children—and spinach.

Cato’s point is not that planting requires no fore-thought. Rather, while planting is indeed an art, and worthy of much consideration, study, and planning, at the same time it lends itself to our simply diving-in, even as beginners. Xenophon notes that agriculture is a unique art in that anyone can do it, but not even a life-time will fully master it.

Buildings, as a rule, should be built to last. Much forethought should prepare the foundation, as it were, for proper construction. But by nature’s design, with a minimum of preparation, we can just start planting. And we learn, as we grow. Each spring is a new beginning and a re-invitation to start, or start again.

So if you have been wondering whether this is a good year to plant a ‘garden’—be it only a few plants in your side yard or on the patio—perhaps now is the time to stop thinking and to start doing.

Over the next few weeks I am going to offer a series of Wednesday Quotes on gardening, using Hesiod, Xenophon, Cato and Virgil, in which they point to a number of great reasons to till the earth.

Marcus Portius Cato (234-149 B.C.), also known as Cato the Elder and Cato the Wise, was a Roman senator, historian, and farmer. Besides De Agricultura, he wrote on history and the military art.

Image: Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875), The Potato Planters [note: potatoes can be planted now in VA too!]

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  1. Tried so many times; always discouraged by the “varmints and critters” that help themselves to all the fruits of my labor. 😉

  2. Yes, I agree with Cato!! The previous comment-er is right – it IS discouraging to plant and not be successful (as happens to me often). But there is nothing like tending plants, and even being successful only 1 out of 5 times (about my average) is worth the effort. The most I’m able to do is “…a few plants…on the patio” – but even this is heavenly. Thank you for the post!

  3. Excellent post as always. Keep up the good work

    We don’t do any vegetable or fruit gardening, but I’ve always loved plants and landscaping. Not quite the same as growing to consume, and probably not as fulfilling, but I do find a sense of contentedness and accomplishment from it

    However, this post has inspired me to try a few vegetables this year. Perhaps simply tomatoes or peppers on the porch, but I’ll put it on my shopping list now.

  4. Thank you for this post. I enjoy gardening very much. I learned to place netting over my plants so the critters don’t get to them. It is very satisfying to pick your own veggies for salads and such.

  5. Thank you for these comments! I certainly agree about how discouraging the varmints can be. I’ve especially experienced this with my fruit trees. There is an insect called the Plum curculio, and their damage is devastating and they are very hard to stop. Likewise, in the garden to see big healthy squash plants succumb within days to vine borers you never see is just awful. The list goes on. But slowly, ever so slowly, we figure out things we can do, or, we simply readjust and focus on the more pest-proof vegetables… Or, as Maria suggests, we count ourselves blessed even with what little we get. Best of luck to you all.

  6. There is a running joke in our family that “this year will be the best garden yet!”…..we chuckle at our words when we look at things in August. But we keep trying each year to improve, and quite possibly, it is improving – ever so imperceptibly! Hmm – like spiritual progress?

    1. Well said…

  7. Yes planting is an act of Faith! I live in Adelaide, South Australia, where we are having a hot first few days of autumn, harvesting tomatoes still before the possums find them. Luckily they dont eat aromatic herbs. Its time to plant now, and pray for rain. Veronica

    1. Wow. It is so interesting to hear about the ‘other side of the world.’ Good luck in beating the possums. What are you planting now?

  8. permaculturegardens

    I love this series Dr. Cuddeback! My husband and I are passionate about helping busy families grow food. So much to say about this topic but Cato is right. Back to the garden for me!