Published on 02/24/97

The Call of the Mild: Nature Leads You to Garden

When the birds call and the daffodils bob in the first warm breeze, do you get an uncontrollable urge to dig in the dirt?

Wayne McLaurin, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service, says you don't have much choice. Gardening is a rite of spring.

Why do people garden?

"It's a habit for some folks," McLaurin says. "Lots of people grew up farming and gardening. It's what you do in the spring. It's a natural occurrence after being cooped up inside so long. You just have to go outside and get in touch with the soil."

Once nature calls, the rewards are bountiful.

McLaurin figures the reason gardening is by far the No. 1 hobby in the nation, ahead of golf, fishing or anything else, is that it's relaxing.

"We all get frustrated sitting behind a desk all day," he says. "To see something grow and produce a flower or fruit is extremely relaxing. Pulling weeds and tending delicate plants forces you to slow down and notice the little things. And it burns up calories. Gardening is good for both physical and mental well-being."

The first gardeners weren't escaping the office or trying to unwind. They had to garden to feed themselves and their families.

Today's gardeners can stop by the grocery store and get fruits and vegetables from throughout the world. Why go to the time, trouble and expense of gardening?

"People garden because they want the fresh produce," McLaurin says. "You have complete control over chemical use, composting, etc. And there's nothing better than home-grown tomatoes straight off the bush."

Georgia gardeners enjoy the luxury of being able to grow just about anything. The volume and variety a good gardener can reap from a plot of Georgia soil is nothing short of amazing, McLaurin says.

Gardens range from the common "garden" variety of standard vegetables to specialty gardens for herbs, giant tomatoes, exotic plants, ornamental shrubs or showy flowers.

"Everybody has some innate desire to see something grow," McLaurin says," even if it's just an African violet on the window sill. You can't escape spring's call."

Before you answer that call, remember a few tips.

Don't believe all the seed catalog's claims. Buy reputable plants grown locally so they're adapted to your area.

Talk to your county Extension Service agent. Pick up plenty of extension publications about gardening, landscaping and other spring tasks.

"And talk to other gardeners," McLaurin says. "They'll give you more advice than you need. Just ask."