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Gardening and comedy aren’t all that different.
Timing is everything with both, but it’s also how we deal with the unexpected that makes gardening and comedy a lot alike.
The first rule in improvisational comedy (or, “improv”) is that you cannot say “no." Participants must accept their partner’s statement and expand on it with a “yes, and…” This philosophy yields such creative results, it has even caught on in organizations as a way of promoting innovation and open communication.
In comedy and in business “yes, and…” works as it forces us to respond creatively rather than defensively. In gardening, it works because Mother Nature does not take “No” for an answer.
Have you ever cursed at the weather? Expect more rain in the forecast. Or a heat wave. Spite just happens to be Mother Nature’s favourite punchline, but nobody said she was the comedian.
How can we apply “yes, and…” to the garden? Here is what we think:
- Whatever the weather, we weather the weather: You can always separate the amateur gardeners from the pros by how they respond to a rainy day. Ben recently helped with a plant sale put on by his Master Gardener group where it poured rain throughout the entire day. The volunteer Gardeners/plant sellers carried on in their rain gear and the loyal customers lined up to exceed last year’s sales. We look to the Brits, who are known not just for their gardening culture but also for laughing at themselves, where you find the dreariest weather but also the world’s best gardens and rain gear. Have you seen what they charge for a pair of Wellingtons made in the UK? No joke.
- Embracing failure: On a recent backyard tour of a gardener-friend’s yard, she laughed her way through the plant collection. “Yeah well, I kind of created a competition between this dogwood and this juniper, and it looks like the dogwood is losing. Poor dogwood, maybe I will move her." A positive way of saying that your dogwood is dying. Only from a true gardener.
- Company is coming and you’ve been caught up in the yard all day, playing in the dirt: It’s the worst possible time for your guests to show up early, as they often do. The ultimate “yes, and…” moment. You could panic, run upstairs and clean up – or greet them with a filthy handshake and offer them a garden tour, playing it off like that was your plan for the evening all along. We have found that our guests are often receptive to helping harvest dinner, even when they are dressed for the patio. They won’t even notice that you’re still in your ‘gardening clothes’, because they’ll be covered in dirt also.
- How many tomatoes does it take, to be totally sick of tomatoes: The tomato harvest always seems to happen all at once. Thankfully, we don’t make our living selling fresh tomatoes. We could turn them into the soil or dump them in the compost (saying “no” more tomatoes), but instead we find new recipes, tomato sandwiches for lunch and spaghetti with tomato sauce for dinner, and we’ll give lots away. Have you ever showed up at a friend’s house with the trunk of your car literally filled with tomatoes? It is sure to make them smile.
- Be the Zucchini Fairy: Ben’s sister/Mark’s daughter, Lynn had a running joke while at university for being the “Fenwick Fairy”. She left gifts for fellow residents in Fenwick Towers with a note, “from the Fenwick Fairy”. Everybody knew the Fairy, but nobody knew it was Lynn.
A few laughs and now part of family lore.
You can do this with excess zucchini harvest by carving a message into a growing zucchini and letting it scab over. Mark did so with a six quart of zucchini-messages by leaving them in a neighbour’s top-down convertible. What a surprise.
Garden humour is usually harmless and none the less entertaining. “Yes, and….”
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.