Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Privacy and Politics

There's been a lot of buzz about the organic garden that the Obamas are growing at the White House. Good for them. I'm supportive, but not quite as gleeful as I expected, and I think it comes down to this:

To me, gardening is an intensely private activity. While I might talk about it, or write about it, actual gardening is like meditation - or maybe it *is* meditation. The physical realities of weeding and sowing and cursing and watering are supplemental to an entire mental reality, the emotional and intellectual world of my garden that I don't discuss much.

On occasion, I joke about having a farmboy come and weed for me, or build me a trellis, but something deep within me rebels at the idea. I want my garden to be mine alone, where only I know what the sprout is likely to be, and where only I get to decide whether a plant stays or goes. The idea of having my garden in the most public residence in the land, aided by a group of children, planned by someone else (even if it's a really great chef) makes me cringe. It's hard for me to get excited on a personal level, even though I like the idea.

I think that's why I'm deeply horrified when cities intrude on the privacy of the garden, declaring wildflowers to be overgrown weeds or lawns too brown to bear. Blanket prohibitions stir the libertarian in me - if someone wants to grow a yard of dandelions, who am I to protest? (I will make exceptions for things that are a clear public hazard - no mercury in the water supply.)

This doesn't stop me from judging other people's gardens, of course - where would we be without the great Puritan pastime of passing judgment on one's neighbors and feeling superior? But that judgment shouldn't extend any farther than that, unless we can argue a serious public health or ecological disaster in the making.

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