Slow what?: Review of “Slow Gardening”

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By now, I’m sure that all good Ethicurean readers are familiar with Slow Food and the tenets of this movement: the pleasure of good, clean, fair food and celebrating our many food traditions. The idea of “Slow” has shown up in other organizations and ideas, such as Slow Cities and Slow Money, both of which encourage local engagement in community and economic life. Now the concept of “Slow Gardening” comes in a new book of the same name, from gardener and author Felder Rushing.

So just what is Slow Gardening? According to Rushing, the idea is to slow down and enjoy gardening for its own sake, seeing a garden in its entirety while understanding the basic principles behind horticultural science. Above all, he notes, Slow Gardening is about ignoring the “should” and “must” from others and “gardening according to your own standards.” Though this sounds like a fairly cavalier approach, Rushing points out that “the practice of Slow Gardening is simply good gardening, which encompasses a lot of basic, commonly shared knowledge and skills” – but done for the enjoyment of the activity itself, not necessarily for a bountiful harvest or a perfect landscape.

Only one chapter is devoted to those general gardening practices, and even then Rushing only covers the basics. This is not a how-to book for beginning gardeners who need their hands held at every step. Instead, Rushing focuses on the psychological appeal of gardening and the creative potential in developing one’s own garden. He notes that the word garden came from the Old English word ghordos, referring to a guarded space, and he adds that the key element in creating garden space is “the mental and emotional aspect of feeling secure, and free.” He offers design tips such as including “hard” features such as walls or arbors that define spaces as well as art that personalizes the garden and adds extra color or texture to the view.

While “Slow Gardening” is short on the practical details of specific plants and their needs, the book does lay out some useful tips, such as how and why to create a meadow lawn space that uses less energy and labor or that a new gardener should look at what his or her neighbors are growing and why to understand what plants might best be suited to their locale. One of the best tips is one I wish I’d heard years ago, before accepting a few starts of gooseneck loosestrife (an invasive species) for my old garden: “Be careful of any plant that someone wants to give you a LOT of.”

Rushing does encourage sustainable garden activities such as composting, recycling materials and things, and encouraging wildlife, and he promotes the joy of sharing or swapping plant starts and seeds with friends and neighbors. He also gives some sensible advice: “The best strategy in the garden, or with any household tasks, is to do a little as you go, instead of loading up all your free days with work and half-killing yourself in the spring.” But I bristled at the admonition to “stop planting like a farmer,” since the joy I get out of the garden comes from how long it can feed me through the year, even once the bugs and other pests have taken their share.

If you’re a beginning gardener in need of a how-to book or a reference tool, this isn’t it.  If you want to enjoy gardening more than you do or need someone to tell you how to relax, “Slow Gardening” might just be the gardening self-help you need.  For myself, I have enough of a lackadaisical approach to my gardens not to need any more encouragement in that area, so I’ll be passing the book along to someone else who might find more use from it.

Editor’s note: The Ethicurean maintains a comprehensive list of books about sustainable food and agriculture and related topics at Goodreads.com. You can see what we’re reading via the Goodreads widget in the righthand column (and if you click on one of those book covers to purchase it via Amazon.com, you’ll be helping us out financially, at no extra cost to you.) To browse our collective library and read previous reviews, visit our Goodreads bookshelf.

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