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Gardening is a controversial issue for some people, who, if asked, would tell you that the last time they planted a garden, all that came up was their water bill. And one particular cynic observed that if God had wanted us to plant gardens, he wouldn't have created supermarkets.

However, there are others who would swear by their gardens, which are defined as follows: A vegetable garden is a well-tilled plot of earth, usually about 30 feet by 50 feet, enriched with expensive fertilizer and humus, and planted in well-tilled rows, where the neighbor's dog chooses to bury all its bones.Despite their disadvantages, here are some of the reasons people continue to plant gardens year after year.

- Many people describe the growing and tilling of gardens as being a spiritual experience that brings them great comfort.

Says one gardener: "As anyone who has ever attempted a garden knows, the payback for one's patient planning and chipped fingernails seems, finally, nothing short of a miracle. One sunny day, the satiny petals of the peony unfurl; the delphinium's blue outdoes the bluebird. Suddenly stiff backs and nursery bills are forgotten - or at least, forgiven.

"Amid the joy even the simplest annual border or backyard plot can give us, there's little risk in becoming overly proud of one's garden because gardening by its very nature is humbling. It has a way of keeping you on your knees."

- Gardens relieve stress. As one gardener put it: "Everything stress is, gardening is not. Stress is hurried and harried; gardening has a pace of nature's seasonlong rhythms. Stress is feeling powerless and victimized; gardening is control over both your food supply and your immediate environment. Stress is alienation, isolation; gardening is taking part in the great cycles of the earth, the cycles of growth and nourishment, or death and rebirth; it is a daily and joyous ritual of participation in the unity of life. As you garden, you are healed, - body and mind, heart and soul."

Another gardener adds: "Emotional tensions and gardening are incompatible. It's nearly impossible to be angry when admiring your first ripe tomato."

- Gardens soothe the soul. "Generations of mankind have discovered that gardening is work for philosophers, and that the daily planting and weeding will make a philosopher out of him who never was one before," reflects one gardener. "I mean philosopher in the true sense, not simply a placid soul who can accept life without protest, but a mind awakened, fertile and discriminating."

- Planting a garden is an "ancient rite" in which man may participate. Gardens go back to the beginning of time, for as Francis Bacon has observed, "God Almighty first planted a garden. And, indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures."

And speaking of Adam and Eve, another gardener reflects: "I've learned the same thing about my garden that Adam and Eve learned about theirs. It's best to follow instructions."

Still another gardener observes: "Genesis reads: `And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden.' It may well be that every making of a garden is an attempt to return to Eden. It even may be that every garden is an Eden in itself: that for the while we are immersed in it we can retain a vision of what we were meant to be."

However, a last gardener points out that gardening isn't perfect - it didn't keep Adam out of mischief.

- Gardening "hooks" one on a lifelong pleasure. "It all began with a plot of earth and a packet of seeds," says one gardener. "I felt a contained excitement, jacketed like a seed within the soil. Looking at that brown raked square, laid out with string, I realized that I was nothing more than a custodian to a mystery beyond my comprehension.

"I think this is what hooks one on gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at the Creation."

Re becoming "hooked," another gardener says: "Making a garden is not a gentle hobby for the elderly, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole, and once it has done so he will have to accept that his life is going to be radically changed. There are seasons when he will hesitate to travel, and if he does travel, his mind will be distracted by the thousand and one children he left behind, children who are always in peril of one sort of another."

Thomas Jefferson finishes: "No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Though an old man, I am but a young gardener."

- Hard-core gardeners have advice for those who might consider starting garden as an avocation:

- A good gardener always plants three seeds - one for the bugs, one for the weather, one for himself.

- The philosopher who said that work well done never needs doing over never weeded a garden.

- What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.

- Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration.

- If your vegetables don't look like the ones on the seed packet, remember that professional vegetables posed for those pictures.