Why is gardening the most popular hobby in the United States?

Some people want to produce potatoes, tomatoes and carrots to put more or better-tasting food on the table. Others enjoy the beauty of zinnia and petunia flowers, and the foliage of coleus, or picking apples or plums off their own backyard trees.

Our deep-rooted kinship with the Earth probably is clearly seen in the satisfaction we find in making a garden. Gardening gives us respect for rain, sunlight, the soil, plants and the whole magnificent ecosystem of which we are a part.

How many bird watchers do we have in this country? I have heard estimates as high as 60 million, depending on the definition of bird watcher. Hard-core birders might keep county and state lists of bird observations, and would take a day trip of several hundred miles to add one species to their list. Far more numerous, however, are the window-watchers and garden birders. Their satisfaction comes from knowing a few local species and once in a while spotting an unexpected visitor that may come through.

Growing a garden and feeding birds puts us in touch with the natural world, a connection that too much technology obliterates. We all need to interact with at least a few of the plants and animals that share Earth with us. The hope is these experiences will make us better stewards.


Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.