On Sunday, 18 September 2011, the New York Times magazine ran a long article What If The Secret of Success is Failure about a set of characteristics, qualities, that are predictors of children’s success in life. An educational researcher identified six personal qualities of success on the “grit scale”: zest, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. (Ah, aren’t these the same qualities, even to honest speech, that Epicurus talked about comprising the tranquil man? It’s been decades since I’ve read Epicurus and this may be good reason to pursue him again.)
Gardening has a grit scale too, and I believe the characteristics of a successful gardener are identical, only applied to a new context: zest, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. Yes, you can imagine the zest about getting dirty and eating sun-warmed strawberries, the Thanksgiving of eating a pumpkin pie with filling from your garden’s pumpkin patch, the gratitude gardeners feel to give back to the soil more than they took from it, the curiosity about growing and eating new varieties, and the eternal optimism of a gardener who keeps watering, weeding, caring.
But self-control and social intelligence? Well, some might rightly argue that gardening is an obsession and, therefore, knows no self-control. However, self-control is required when you find a four-inch beetle or a tomato horn worm in your garden. Or when you arrive early one morning to find that the squirrels have eaten all your sweet corn and the rabbits devoured your fall crop of lettuces.
And social intelligence is required of the community gardener where real estate is a precious commodity and of the gardener attending a gardening fair or farmers market. The premise of this blog is that eating well is the socialization of pleasure. And social intelligence is imperative for a gardener at a party because few others — except other gardeners — share the intense passion gardeners have about their gardens and the gardens of others.
Of course, it’s possible that the social intelligence index is inverted for gardeners. When I’ve visitors to my garden, I abandon any social graces if I spy a weed. Compulsively, I’m bent over weeding.