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When we feed the plants, the plants feed us! Stock image
ColumnsJano's Garden

The joy of gardening

What is “awe”?  What is “joy”? Recently, I had the pleasure of hearing two speakers on National Public Radio talk about the simple pleasure and necessity of experiencing these human emotions, both individually and collectively.

As a guest on the NPR show, “Hidden Brain,” UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner described “awe” as a feeling of amazement you might get watching a sunset or rainbow or standing under a grove of trees.

Show host Shankar Vedantam said, “You don’t see cats perched on a sand dune at the beach to watch the sunset, but locals and tourists alike line up for the perfect spot on a beach every evening. So, is this a true human emotion?”

Keltner answered, “Awe is the ultimate collective emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good.”


As a Master Gardener instructor, I have worked with over 50 participants in the Carlsbad Senior Center Garden Class, and we have planted raised bed vegetable crops for three years. Each year the participants work together to learn new skills and share their knowledge. At the end of each class, we all agreed that we had experienced both joy and awe.


One of the best-selling books of 2022, Ross Gay’s “Inciting Joy,” suggests that joy is expansive and worth sharing. “I think of joy in the garden in August, when growing tomatoes and zucchini become a laboratory of mutual aid.” When we feed the plants, the plants feed us!


After being luminously inspired, I set about making a list of the (almost-free) activities we can create with our families, friends and fellow gardeners.

• SEEDS — This is a wonderful time of year to take stock of seeds harvested last year and stored over the winter in those ever-present shoe boxes! Last year we had a bumper crop of giant sunflowers that we harvested and are preparing to plant this spring.

• RAID YOUR REFRIGERATOR — So many of my students at the Carlsbad Senior Garden have surprised me every week with seeds harvested from their salad bins and pantry. In previous articles, I have talked about the process of seed-saving, or you can find extensive information on the Seed Savers Exchange website. We have had great success drying and replanting seeds or tubers from a multitude of peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.

• FAMILY GARDENS — Begin a small garden project with your children or grandchildren. A large 5-gallon pot filled with tomatoes and lettuce is all you need to get started!

• BIRDS — If you have a small garden, or just a front porch, setting up a bird feeder can be a pleasurable activity for all family members, especially children and grandchildren.

• BUTTERFLIES — Scour your seed catalogues for collections that will attract butterflies. Many fully grown varieties of Asclepias (milkweed) are available at local nurseries. I also recommend visiting the website for John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds for a complete list of their Habitat Gardens, including those designed for hummingbirds, butterflies and songbirds, boasting over 5,000 seeds in packet for under $20. If you have the room in your backyard, these are worth a try and come with complete instructions to start your Habitat Garden.

• VISIT YOUR LOCAL GARDENS — The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas hosts garden classes and offers daily tours of its extensive collection. Contact for ticket information and class registration.

Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and Horticulturist who teaches at the Carlsbad Senior Center. Contact her at [email protected].