Gardening: Education vs Experience

I started gardening when I was a teenager. I learned to prune fruit trees and grow vegetables. It was rudimentary, but effective knowledge. I liked it enough to go to college, majoring in Horticulture. I learned a ton about gardening and Horticulture. I learned the science in the soil, the botanical names of hundreds of plants, scientific terms, and how to grow about every type of plant that grows in my climate.

I interned in the Extension office, and learned how to diagnose basic plant problems and give advice (most, but not all of it was good.) I worked at a public garden and learned just how much deadheading perennials can require to look their best. I took permaculture courses that taught me how to think in a way that more holistic manner about the garden. I designed gardens for other people.

And yet, in many, many ways, all of this prepared me quite poorly for the reality of owning and growing my own garden. My education was extensive and good. But knowledge simply cannot replace experience.

I learned the botanical name of weeds and twenty different ways to control them. But that didn’t exactly prepare me for the reality of the pernicious nature of weeds, that require far more time to control than I want to give them. I learned how to diagnose plant diseases, and how to control them. But that didn’t prepare for the simple reality that it’s usually simply not worth it to treat or identify a diseased plant, and it’s far more effective on my economic bottom line to just pull the plant.

And I also didn’t learn about the feeling of a miracle that occurs every time a plant finally germinate from seed after waiting two weeks. I didn’t learn about the joy of sitting in a hammock with the sun shining, even if it surrounded by weeds. I didn’t learn about the joy in seeing a concept plan come to life, better than I imagined it.

Gardening was far messier than the education I received. It’s hot, messy, dirty, full of pests and hard work. It’s also far more rewarding to see a new sprout grow that I planted in the soil I imported than to learn to label the different parts of it. Learning about gardening was useful: and I’ve been far more successful than if I hadn’t received my education. But there is no replacement for getting my hands dirty and working for years in a living laboratory.