7 Reasons to Become a Gentleman Gardener

by A Manly Guest Contributor on April 5, 2013 · 51 comments

in Health & Sports, Manly Skills, Outdoors, Self-Reliance


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from John Porter.

With warm weather upon us and summer just around the corner, it’s time to think about gardening. “Gardening?” you say. Yes, gardening. If the mention of it has you thinking of aged ladies in big hats and frilly gloves gently nipping blooms from their roses, then you have the wrong picture. If you aren’t already gardening, there are plenty of reasons to be doing so. It’s time to lay down your gardening misconceptions and pick up a shovel and a hoe.

Manly Horticulturalists in History

Gardening goes way back and has a good deal of manly history. Thousands and thousands of years ago, the planting of crops led to the creation of what would eventually be modern culture. The first crops were grains, as in wheat, barley, and the like. But don’t think that agriculture began just so that everyone could eat bread. On the contrary, modern theories of early agriculture show that the practice started so that the Neolithic nomads could get their homebrew on. That’s right – early agriculture was driven to produce beer. You can’t get any manlier a start than that.

Fast-forward several thousand years and you find that some of the most celebrated gardeners of our time have been men. Perhaps one of the most prolific and adventurous of them was the third president of our country – Thomas Jefferson. During his time, he was known far and wide for his gardening prowess. He would even compete with his friends to see who could harvest the first peas in the spring (manly competition has obviously changed with the invention of football and video games). He kept journal after journal of his trials and errors in the garden and has passed down a legacy that lives still today. The gardens at his home, Monticello, still function much as they did when he was gardener-in-chief. There’s even a Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.

Aside from Jefferson, we find garden pioneers like Luther Burbank, who developed more than 800 varieties of plants throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s and is the father of the Russet Burbank potato. It was his unorthodox and untidy tinkering that led the horticultural industry for decades and ultimately culminated in Congress passing the 1930 Plant Patent Act. Since he had passed away four years earlier, he was posthumously awarded 16 patents. Burbank’s contemporary and competitor was W. Atlee Burpee, who had the largest seed company in the world when he died in 1915. The company distributed over 1 million catalogs annually and took over 10,000 orders per day. The company is still in operation as Burpee Seeds.

Of course, the one horticultural hero celebrated in both song and story is Johnny Appleseed. No, he’s not just a legend of frontier America; he really did exist. Despite living as a pauper, John Chapman (his real name) became a legend during his own lifetime. He traveled westward ahead of the expansion of the growing United States, introducing apples to much of the frontier of Ohio and Illinois. This itinerant farmer wasn’t planting apples so that people could get all their fruits and veggies, however. Back in those days, apples weren’t for eating – they were for cider; as in hard cider and applejack. He also sold trees to pioneers, who were required to plant fruit trees as a symbol of their ties to the land given to them by the government. In The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World, Michael Pollan writes: “Really, what Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was our American Dionysus.”

7 Reasons You Should Be Gardening 

Now, at this point you might be asking, “Why do your examples of a bunch of dead, manly gardeners mean that I should be gardening?” I would have to say that you’re right – it doesn’t mean a thing. But, there are plenty of reasons you should be gardening. I’ll go over a few of them right now:


Reason #1: You know what you are eating. 

There are an increasing number of people who focus on eating organically or naturally produced food. That’s well and good, but just because it says organic doesn’t mean that it’s any healthier. Organic food produced on a large scale can still have issues. Just look at the food biosecurity issues with tainted produce over the last several years. Plus, the rules for “certified organic” might not be as stringent as you think.


Reason #2: You can save money on food.

There’s a reason that after the economic collapse in 2008, home food gardening increased by over 30% by some estimates. Growing your own fruits and veggies can not only put more green in your fridge and your diet, it can also put more green in your wallet. It is much more economical to grow a hundred heads of lettuce from a seed packet that costs $2 than it is to buy one head of lettuce for $2. Some gardeners might argue that home-grown food really isn’t cheaper, but you have to resist the urge to buy all of the latest gizmos, fancy equipment, expensive tools, and overpriced fertilizer. You can maintain your garden without breaking the bank by being thrifty and wise. It gets even cheaper when you use recycled materials, make your own compost, and bargain shop.

Reason #3: It can attract/impress a mate.

Invite your “someone special” over for a romantic, home-cooked candlelight dinner, and you are sure to impress. Tell your date that you grew the tomato and herbs in the pasta sauce and it will be the icing on the cake. Finish dinner with some home-grown strawberries and you’ve hit the ball out of the park. Gardening demonstrates skill and dedication, and shows that you’ll be able to provide for your future family beyond simply bringing home the bacon.


Reason #4: It can make you more self-sufficient.

Sure, right now obtaining food is as easy as going down to the big box store and grabbing whatever you want off the shelf. But what if some kind catastrophe cut off that steady food supply? Would you have even the foggiest idea as to how to start growing your own grub? Even if the zombie apocalypse is a ways off, it is really satisfying to know that you don’t have to totally rely on distant producers for your food, and that you have the skill-set to turn seeds into sustenance.

Reason #5: Gardening is great exercise.

Perhaps the closest you’ve come to gardening is being a couch potato. Or maybe your idea of health is working on your six-pack abs. Either way, gardening can be a fun way to get in some exercise. Planting, cultivating, harvesting, and lifting are all activities that give you a moderate amount of exercise. You can burn off pounds and increase your health all while growing some tasty grub.

Reason #6: Gardening works as therapy/meditation.

Does life wear you down? Are you stressed? Gardening can be a great way to find inner peace and concentration, clearing out all of the competing thoughts that life brings us. Plus, there’s no better cure for frustration than digging holes or destroying weeds.

Reason #7: Gardening will reconnect you to nature.

No, we are not talking Kumbaya and sharing circles here. We are talking actually getting out of the house/office/parent’s basement and experiencing the great outdoors. Really getting down in the dirt. It used to be that humans functioned with the natural seasonal cycles, especially when it came to food. Since we have access to fresh produce the whole year at the grocery store, we’ve lost some connection to the seasons and the natural flow of the earth.

How Do I Start Gardening?


Well, the simple answer is: plant something! Even if it is in a pot in your apartment window, get growing. Visit a local garden center or retailer and see what is available in your area. You can also check online for mail-order garden companies. If you are completely confused or need help, contact your local extension agent. These folks (myself included) are paid to connect you with the information you need and often offer workshops for beginning gardeners. If you feel a little more confident in your gardening skill, the extension service also offers the Master Gardener program, which is an intensive training and volunteer service program. If you are unsure where to find your extension agent, contact your nearest land-grant university or go to www.extension.org. There, you can find lots of information, a connection to your state’s extension service, and even a box where you can type in a question to be answered by an extension expert. Who knows, maybe one day your horticultural skills will be the stuff of legend and stories of your garden will be told in history books.


John Porter is a West Virginia University Extension agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Charleston, WV. He is a native of Wayne County, WV, where he grew up on his family farm. He currently resides in Kanawha City, where he is transforming his home’s small landscape into an edible homestead.



{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John April 5, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Being in my mid-30′s and a gardener since I was a young child, I can vouch for all of those as great reasons to try your hand at growing your own food. It may be entirely in your own mind, but an apple that grows in your yard, from a tree you planted, somehow magically tastes better than any you could ever buy in a store.

And I can vouch that it impresses the ladies. There was a very attractive Russian lass that I was courting. Cooking her a dinner including home grown oven-roasted beets and potatoes from my backyard? She couldn’t have been more impressed and she let me know in no uncertain manner.

2 Brian April 5, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Well Id love to garden but veggies sound so boring, maybe something greener and more fragrant lol

3 Jeff April 5, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Don’t forget the chance to grow heirloom varieties of vegetables. They may not be suitable for large commercial cultivation but they taste better than anything bought in a supermarket and may well be more nutritious. They kept our ancestors fed and healthy and can do the same today. And I like the historical connection.

Have a glass of beer and a tomato sandwich where, five minutes before, the tomato was ripe on the vine and warmed by the sun. Now that’s worth the effort.

4 Andrew Croce April 6, 2013 at 3:37 am

AOM needs to put up more articles about sustainable gardening! My wife and I have started juicing fruits and vegetables, and it seems like such a waste to just throw out all the pulp so we’re experimenting with turning it into fertilizer. We buried a bunch in the yard recently, but we still don’t have much of a clue what we’re doing.

5 minuteman April 6, 2013 at 9:24 am

I live in a suburban enighbourhood with no space of a veggie garden, mostly because of bad light exposure, but we grow herbs and spices in our flower beds. No point growing it if you can’t eat it. We grow dill, thyme, rosemary, mint,sage, coriander, chives,and basil, all in our flowerbeds. That which we don’t use fresh we freeze or fry.

Real alcoholic cider is awesome stuff. I have made it at home wine making places and would love to make it at home. Its one of the things I never quite get around to.

6 Josh K April 6, 2013 at 12:08 pm

My wife and I got into gardening a few years ago with our neighbours. These are all great reasons and things we love about gardening. It really does make you feel more connected to the earth: getting dirt under your fingernails, the smells of soil and different plants. And I think it is a very helpful corrective to the hyper-paced lives many of us lead. You can’t rush gardening. The plants grow at their own pace, and you just have to wait.

Also, I never liked tomatoes when I was a boy. I would always remove them from burgers and sandwiches. Now that we grow our own, I love them!

7 Warren April 6, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Victory Gardens were hugely popular as a patriotic way to support the war effort (WW II) in the US and Canada.

8 Michael April 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm

@Andrew: Well, to better use the pulp, why don’t you blend instead of juicing? I blend a mix of avocado, blueberries, kale, and almond milk. Tastes decent, although not pretty. Take in the fiber and phytonutrients instead of casting them away.

9 Sophie Gale April 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Wooing with home-grown tomato sauce and strawberries is nice but strawberries are ripe in June and tomatoes are ripe around July and August, so the gentleman farmer/lover will have to learn something about food preservation. Just saying…

10 par_parenthese April 6, 2013 at 6:08 pm

More of this! As a lady and regular AoM reader, I can vouch for the fact that a gentleman who has enough initiative to garden is automatically much higher in the rankings, so to speak. Few things are more attractive than a self-sufficient man! :)

11 Derek M April 6, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Might I suggest a look into permaculture? If you are going to garden in limited or difficult spaces, permaculture offers a variety of ideas and approaches that will increase your yields while building up the environment around you.

12 John Porter April 6, 2013 at 9:30 pm

@ Sophie Gale – There are two types of stawberries. June-bearing strawberries do ripen May-June (depending where you are). Day neutral strawberries ripen throughout the growing season, so no preservation is required to enjoy tomatoes and strawberries simultaneously. Though food preservation is another manly skill we could talk about.

13 Mr Ed April 7, 2013 at 8:13 am

You missed out Diocletian, the only Roman to abdicate of his own free will to become a vegetable garderner.

They begged him to come back, but:

“If you could show the cabbage that I planted with my own hands to your emperor, he definitely wouldn’t dare suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed.”

14 David Ramirez April 7, 2013 at 11:53 am

Just to add to the list of manly gardeners from the past: the Augustinian friar, Gregor Mendel founded the science of genetics through his work with pea plants.

15 Robert Hochfelder April 7, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I live in a townhouse with an extremely shall, “brick,” back yard. How could a grow my own garden. I understand if I had a backyard, etc.

16 Atlas Kimbrough April 7, 2013 at 4:16 pm

I’m 17 and have been volunteering at my community garden for the past three years. I’ve gotten great food and volunteer hours in at the same time. We have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program in which individuals or families can pay at the beginning of the season and receive a fresh box of vegetables every week. If starting a garden on your own seems daunting, I highly encourage you to find a local community garden.

17 Elias April 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm

I’m glad someone made a point of Gregor Mendel!
I train regularly for lumberjack competitions, and I’m very fond of gardening. It’s not in the Apache nature, that is, our blood, to be farmers, but it is in my heart as a nature lover. I buy only untreated beams for chopping practices so I can use the small bits that fly off for mulch and compost.
Everything’s full circle, guys.

18 Elias April 7, 2013 at 4:22 pm

That’s right fellas: chicks dig it. Get to working!

19 Turling April 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm

@Robert, containers. Every vegetable, plant, etc can be grown in a container. A raised bed is nothing more than an 8 foot by 4 foot container.

20 Doug April 7, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Andrew: check out vermiculture. Figure out how to have beds of worms, and feed the pulp to the worms. They will love it and reward you with piles of worm castings, an excellent fertilizer.

21 Michael April 8, 2013 at 8:32 am

I got into gardening last spring, and found it to be exactly what I was looking for. After a hard day at the office, the 10 minutes I spend watering my crops lets me focus and relax before engaging with my wife and kids. Last year my 10′ x 10′ patch made for a noticeable reduction in our food budget. I’ve tripled it this year, planted mostly our family’s staples, and am looking forward to even bigger savings.

Plus my wife thinks it’s sexy.

22 Jeremy April 8, 2013 at 8:47 am

Nice to see a post on AOM from a fellow West Virginian (go ‘eers!!). John, we’re neighbors. . . I live in Scott Depot. Nice post. My wife and I will be starting up our raised bed this weekend.

23 Alec April 8, 2013 at 9:30 am

I think it’s very manly to be able provide fresh healthy food for one’s family. I’m excited to really get into veggie gardening this year. I also have my wife approaching approval for me to get backyard chickens (thanks to the AOM article a couple of weeks back)!

24 Ken April 8, 2013 at 11:15 am

I love gardening, gives me something to do after work in the summer when I can’t get out to do some fishing.

I grow close to a ton of veg from a 20×40 plot and a few planters.

Not only does the stuff taste way better, they are also super convenient, just throw the steak on the bbq and walk over and pick some cucumbers, onions and tomato for a salard.

All the digging and pushing wheel barrels also gets you in shape for the hunting season in the fall.

25 Curt April 8, 2013 at 11:51 am

Don’t forget to check your local library for lots of info on gardening, food preservation etc. They might even offer free classes to help get you started. My local library has great resources I just picked up one on growing small fruit (going to try some raspberries).

26 Mike April 8, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Thanks for this article! I spent all weekend gardening and struggling internally with the fuddy-duddy image gardening sometimes has. It’s nice to be reminded how manly gardening can be. I’d love to see more posts about gardening.

@Robert: I second the container suggestion. And once you get ambitious, move some bricks. I had a 11′ by 30′ yard of concrete in my Baltimore rowhouse. Some manly work with a sledgehammer and shovel and I now have a killer “pocket” garden.

27 Tank April 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm

I have fond memories of gardening with my parents as a child but something I had forgotten about. As I enter my early thirties maybe its time to rekindle the fun I had as a kid with my family. Excellent post!

28 Wade April 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

In one of my plots, I’m trying out the “3 Sisters” from the Iroquois legend. Plant corn and once the sprouts are tall enough, plant beans to grow up the corn stalks. In between the rows of corn plant squash. The squash provide shade to keep down the weeds and the beans fix nitrogen into the soil for the corn and the corn provides a natural trestle for the beans.

Have a look at “Companion gardening” and have fun!

29 Jkm April 8, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Thanks for this great article! I’m excited to garden again using my new Tower Garden (vertical aeroponic system with no soil, says I can grow 28 plants in 2 sq.ft.! Just can’t do root crops with it.. oh well..

30 jaklumen April 8, 2013 at 8:36 pm

I’ve been away from my blog feeds as I had to reinstall my computer’s OS and I didn’t have a backup. What a pleasant surprise it was to read such an excellent article on something I’m quite passionate about lately. Much of our garden this year is comprised of Burpee seeds, actually. It’s been an activity that has brought so much of my family together in wonderful, enriching ways. Just this morning my in-laws brought over plants they raised for us in their greenhouse from seed, so we’ll be even better set to go this year.

31 P.M.Lawrence April 9, 2013 at 4:08 am

Robert Hochfelder, further to those suggestions about containers, there’s a variation on that that’s easy to do for potatoes and that produces a surprising amount in a very small area. Simply find a patch of decent soil, plant the seed potatoes there, and then as the plants grow add old tyres around them to build quite high stacks, filling their inside space with sand as a matrix (it doesn’t need to provide plant nutrition). Potatoes will grow in the stacks, and once they are ready you can get them out by instalments by dismantling the stacks progressively.

Oh, and raising guinea pigs for meat in hutches (animal containers) is quite practical in small households, particularly if gardens are producing leafage fodder as a by product (just don’t use potato leafage – it’s poisonous). I suspect that might risk giving you “rabbit starvation” from a lack of dietary fat unless you use the brain matter in stews, just as happens with eating just rabbit for meat. Google for more on small scale meat raising like this.

32 Harvey April 9, 2013 at 5:56 am

My wife wasn’t sure about my new gardening hobby when I started it two years ago. But once she tried potatoes fresh out of the ground, she was converted! It can be a bit arduous when the weather is rubbish, but there’s nothing like bringing your produce home and eating it fresh.

33 Joe Farinaccio April 9, 2013 at 9:26 am

We just finished planting our raised garden beds yesterday. Raised bed gardening can be much easier (from a physical standpoint) than traditional row gardening. And planting in a raised bed also allows the gardener to begin with a great soil mix before any seeds are planted. A terrific gardening soil mixture can be made using compost, peat moss and vermiculite. It feeds the plants very nicely while also being weed-free.

34 Tony April 10, 2013 at 12:11 pm

My garden is not big but it is enough that during the summer, 4 different fresh herbs are in steady supply. Onions, radishes, cucumbers, hot peppers, tomatoes, squash and possibly pole beans this year are in the offing. Fresh grape tomatoes, cheese and basil make our summer time favorite caprese salad several times a week. Then several plants will give us enough tomatoes to make gallons of home-style Italian gravy.

35 Colin April 11, 2013 at 5:55 pm

This is just wonderful, I did not realize there was such a postive following surrounding “men” gardening, my wife and I have been interested in starting a garden and this only increases my fervor. I love the community that surrounds this past time. Thanks to all the positive comments and what a wonderful article and website.

36 Nick April 11, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Good article. I live in a small apartment with no balconies or windowboxes, so I’m currently attempting a (very) small garden in a long box in front of the window. I won’t be able to do a whole meal from it, but I’m growing peppers, cilantro, mint, chamomile, and green onions, so at the very least I’ll be able to spice up my chili and make a mint julep.

37 Lalo April 12, 2013 at 9:31 am

I am in my early 30′s and just started gardening last year during early spring. I have found that gardening is a very interesting hobby and that the feeling of having a hand in producing your own fruits and vegetables is gratifying.
I currently have a watermelon patch with many watermelons, a peach tree with many peaches which still need some time to be harvested, a mexican lemon tree that has many small lemons, and chile del monte (aka chile pecin).
Gardening is very soothing to the soul.

38 Anthony April 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Great article! I am glad to see this at AoM. I have been gardening myself for a few years now. Its really rewarding to see your progress. How about a follow up article on building raised boxes, different kinds of soil, transplanting, etc.?

39 Janna April 12, 2013 at 5:09 pm

a man who can grow food AND cook it? yes, a definite turn-on!

40 Damien April 13, 2013 at 3:49 am

Dear sir,
Let me first congratulate you for the constant quality of your useful (and above all well documented) posts. Even when the subject is well known of the reader, it always seems to be the needed nudge to stop browsing and start acting: for this you have my thanks. And to get to the point, may I suggest that you write something about raising animals? For people in the city it can be complex, but when you have the space, a goat can provide milk, some hens in a handmade pen provide regular eggs (for manly testosterone production)… Seems a good subject, teaching responsibility, self dependency, managing the power over a life: manly qualities if there ever were.

Well that’s all. Greetings from France!

41 Will April 13, 2013 at 10:12 am

I’ve been gardening for at least ten years now. Some years are better than others, but being able to grow my own food is something I wouldn’t trade for anything. My favorite crop is garlic: You plant the cloves in the fall, and let them grow over the winter. Around May, you can harvest the scapes (delicious–toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grill over charcoal!), and in June/July, you harvest the bulbs. It’s one of the most amazing crops you can grow, and takes virtually no work!

42 Tom April 13, 2013 at 10:38 am

I’ve been vegetable gardening for many years with containers in limited rental space & on balconies. Try searching “Sub-irrigated planters”, “2-bucket SIP”, “Earthbox” or “Inside Urban Green” for info on effective container food gardening.

43 Dan April 19, 2013 at 12:51 am

Naturally, men like dirt. Gardening is great! There is nothing better than tilling a garden with a powerful rototiller…..makes you feel alive. Heirlooms make great sandwich fillers. Cucumbers make the wife happy. Home-grown hops make my beer great! We even have espalier apples growing in our front yard and plums in the back for wine making.

However, it’s still snowing in Denver in mid April. This season may be a bit behind. If you’ve never lived in Denver, than it snows all the time so think twice about moving here…..this place is awful. If you live here than you know what I mean, wink, wink.

44 Eric April 21, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Thanks for writing this–I’m really inspired to start my own garden now! My wife and I are finally moving somewhere where we’ll have a yard, and I’d love to try to grow.

I’d love to see an Art of Manliness post on how to start a garden! I’ve been searching on the web, but there isn’t anything that lays it out with the clarity, helpfulness, and tone of AOM.

45 Miguel Collis May 2, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Great post, i live in an apartment and always wanted to start a garden. I came across this on the web and thought it would be useful for others who live in an apartment. http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/gardening-without-a-garden-10-ideas-for-your-patio-or-balcony-renters-solutions-167221

46 Dave Hilling May 29, 2013 at 12:01 am

It really is simple. Just plant something. Next thing you know, you’ll plant something else, then something else. If nothing else, start with some weedy veggies, like spinach and onions. Also try saving roots and planting them, like the sprouting potatoes or carrot tops and celery bottoms you usually toss.

47 Bern LaLone June 14, 2013 at 5:28 pm

@Eric Check out lasagna gardening. In the fall before you want to start your garden, place wet newspapers on the ground and cover with layers of various kinds of organic material: leaves, grass clippings, small sticks, kitchen scraps from plant foods, etc. Very rich once it composts down. Next spring plant your seeds and plants and STEP BACK! For more info search “lasagna gardening” on the internet.

48 erwin July 2, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Use your own urine in the garden, or at least compost. You Tube has an excellent video about Urine fertilized gardening in Ethiopia planted by an NGO. The produce was extraordinary and the presenters credible. This is serious business as it can change how the world eats. This movement may start at your home. Start small the solution is in front of you. Think before you poo-poo my comment. Some people are starving to death. Few can afford Miracle-Gro.

49 Chris July 18, 2013 at 11:49 am

I’ve been into organic vegetable gardening for the last ten years (it’s a real challenge, no miracle-gro here!). And since the end of high school, it has been a strangely effective way to impress my peers.
Different vegetables come in at different times, and planting in April-May allows me every few weeks to have something to share. In late-May and early-June I’ve got sweet peas to spare, and handed them out at school and later work (nothing puts one in the good graces of the boss, like delicious, and free, produce), follow those up a few weeks later with radishes, carrots, green onions. Mid-Summer with flavorful sweet corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Early Autumn is when the sugar pumpkins (good for baking or just decorations) are in. By Christmas, the co-workers are asking how long until the spring crops will be ready.

50 mike douglas September 4, 2013 at 8:56 am

love to garden.Hoever todays so called government does not support the private gardener. Theres story after story of gardeners being harassed for the practice. No matter to me ,I will garden on

51 Ethan February 15, 2014 at 6:41 pm

My grandfather is a long time gardener. Along with vegetables, he also grows at least a half a dozen kinds of roses and several fruit trees. It makes his yard beautiful and useful. Not to mention the fact that it’s made his grip as strong as steel.

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