Most professions have a set of performance standards, which provide an ethical framework for doing one’s work while aspiring to the usual criteria for efficiency, economy and effectiveness. Often referred to as best practices, these standards are intended to give any enterprise a moral basis for the kind of profitability that truly makes it sustainable. That we are more likely to hear about businesses, which violate their corporate consciences, is simply the realization that good moral behavior is not news. Greed sells and the news media, like any other business, must make a profit and so we hear or read about corporate raiders and excessive executive compensation to the point of damning saturation. But most of us conduct our affairs with a fair, if unstated, sense of values even if they go no further than affirming the ubiquitous platitude of first doing no harm.
Best practices, however, are about doing not avoiding. And this week’s lesson in the master gardener’s class I am taking is about gardening’s own system of best practices. At its heart this system is about enhancing one’s own environment. And even for the hobbyist this must be done in keeping with the fundamental requirements of the Three Es – efficiency, economy and effectiveness – if we are to enjoy any kind of emotional or material gain from the work we do, while we pursue an ethical sense of care for the land, plants, and animals which comprise our earthly Edens.
To do this requires the kind of knowledge we have acquired over the past several weeks about soils, plants and pests in order to derive a viable plan for fulfilling the purpose behind our desire to garden. And for my part I believe that the creation of beauty is an ethical component of all the work we do. Gardening has a natural advantage in this regard as the gardens of our making can engage all of our physical senses with an array of pleasing sensations, while gratifying our need to find purpose in living. For no matter what we believe about how we got here, rather through creation or evolution, the human psyche can only sustain itself through a conviction of meaning, no matter how vague or poorly defined that conviction may be.
Gardens make a statement about life and about us. Designing, planting and maintaining them produces an undeniable testament about our character just like any flower, leaf or edible product our labors can induce. They convey our sense of best practices by their own vitality or the lack thereof. So garden at your own risk. Your neighbors, and every passer-by, will form an opinion of you by the evidence of the care they see on display in the beauty and the bounty of your gardening exploits.