Archive for May 2011

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

(inspired by the best spring day of 2011; with apologies to Andy Williams’ version)

It's the most wonderful time of the year!
The buds are all popping
There's nothing that's stopping, 
It's finally here!!!
It's the most wonderful time of the year!

It's the hap - happiest time of them all!
With the soil full of soiling
And ants gladly toiling 
On peonies tall!
It's the hap- happiest time of them all!

   Greening shrubs that need pruning,
   The warblers returning, 
   And breezes no longer so cold.
   Humming birds begin tuning
   And daphne's scent looming
   Like gardens awakening of old

It's the most wonderful time of the year!
When the bleeding heart's bleeding
And dandelion weeding
Brings backaches severe!
It's the most wonderful time of the year!

   I've got shrubs that need pruning,
   The warblers returning, 
   And breezes no longer so cold.
   Humming birds' perfect tuning
   And blossoms ballooning
   Like gardens awakening of old

It's the most wonderful time of the year!
It's the most wonderful time of the year!


What Is Your Garden Worth?

Away from my garden, retreating in Martha’s Vineyard, MA, I came upon this thought.

A gardener uses all his senses — sight, smell, sound, touch, taste — and works within all dimensions — length, width, height/depth, density, time. Not to mention energy and soul. These variables intersect (interact) in observable and intangible ways to impose order on chaos, form on nature, compromise over competition, justice over power, knowledge over ignorance, passion over apathy, enrichment over paucity, artfulness over randomness, delight over despondency. Both solace and community draw gardeners to others’ gardens and welcome visitors to their own. Commoners and commodores exchange successes and failures; all are equal in the garden.

Gardening and the Economy

So what of “agriculture”? It is not a topic for aesthetic gardeners but for economists. It extracts value from the earth akin to mining, drilling, fishing and forestry. We mortgage our fields against their calculated yield. Gardening, on the other hand, has no measurable value. Agronomy supports our priceless folly.

Shall we leave the economy behind? The ideal of self-sufficiency promises an escape from market tyranny but we are so dependent on our interconnected systems that only delusions or extreme dedication — emphasis on cult-like extremism — could possibly break the grip we’re in. At best, we can disengage at the margins. Very few can afford the luxury of being truly “off the grid.” This is not pessimism but realism. Face it: we want the things we want. The real challenge is properly accounting for them. The market lobs unwanted costs into the future for some other accountant to deal with.

Cost/Benefit Accounting

Recognizing true costs is a starting point. Now, let’s measure value. One way economists measure it is by the cost/benefit ratio (smaller numerator or larger denominator is better). The cost/benefit of agriculture is labor plus materials over market value of the harvest. That leads us to calculate the cost/benefit for gardening as the labor and materials divided by an unfathomable benefit — for there is no market value of a garden, especially where there is no harvest. Now the problem is conventional economics.

This is not a unique dilemma. For example, we have no market value for life itself and we cringe when actuaries propose one. We have no market value either for dancing, blowing bubbles, reading to a child, laughing or mourning.

Toward a New Equation

Assuming there are two roles engaged in the valuation: gardener and observer; we can determine the value of a garden, and gardening, thus.

Assign values to these inputs:

  • cost1: the materials the gardener purchases
  • cost2: labor the gardener purchases and/or begrudges (annoyance costs)
  • benefit1: how much it makes observer want to be in it, in Attraction Units (Au)
  • benefit2: how much it makes gardener want to do it, in Au

You might assume the value is higher for the observer/visitor because his is all Attraction Units and no costs (other than opportunity costs). Forget this math — the value of benefit2 can far exceed total costs and the gardener is also an observer of her own garden (benefit1). So, the most valuable context is being both an observer and a gardener and the proper math is:  (cost1 + cost2) – (benefit1 + benefit2 )/(benefit1 + benefit2). This can be reduced to cost per Au, which in the ideal, approaches zero. Or something like that… (Deej: how do I keep the numerator from going negative?)

I could muddy the waters with daffodils (tulips, roses, peas, etc.) grown for sale. Back to the cash crop equation. And what of an arboretum vs. a nursery. How much is a 300 year old conifer worth — the value of its lumber? Some things the market cannot know. We must choose how we value things.

I am sitting in the sunny front room of our retreat house. The circling shadow of a bird in flight crosses the table in front of me. My garden grows without me.