“I think it’s interesting that you took up gardening,” Eric told me sleepily as we settled into bed last night. “It’s another aspect of your…” He yawned. “Creativity.” Then he wanted to know whether it would be better to make salsa and can it, or just can the tomatoes and make salsa from the tomatoes when we want it, so we discussed that as I wriggled my toes in delight that he’s thinking about these things.

But I thought his first comment was interesting, since gardening isn’t something I really thought of as creative. Like counted cross-stitch: you do the work but the pattern was there all along. I have a lot of hobbies, and I could theoretically be called creative for all of them (except WoW), but I at least wouldn’t. Which is funny; I started out in cross-stitch, but rapidly grew bored with it precisely because it’s not creative. Knitting is like that too, at least to the level I do it: pick a yarn, pick a pattern, maybe change a cable or alter a hem, but essentially follow a prescribed set of steps because I don’t know enough to do more. I like producing something useful–like vegetables–but the process is more serene than interesting.

Quilting, on the other hand, I do creatively. I’ve never made a quilt from anybody else’s pattern. That, I think, would be like cross-stitch, except that again the end product is useful (if you don’t give it to somebody who considers it “too good to use,” that is). But my favorite part is designing the pattern. Do I want pictures or abstract designs? Do I want blocky geometry or smooth lines? How will the quilting add to the end effect? I consider myself a much better quilter than knitter (even though my execution is arguably less good) because I think about quilting on this higher level and am much more adaptable when things go wrong.

(I’m getting back to gardening soon, I swear.)

Similarly, I spent half an hour last night tweaking my recipe for Eric’s rye bread. (Incidentally, this involved solving four equations for four variables. Never tell me math isn’t useful.) He loves rye bread for his daily sandwiches, but he’s never had the perfect rye bread, so I decided to make him some. I’m on my fourth iteration. I’ve done enough bread-baking and read enough of the theory (yes, there’s theory) to grasp what to do when he says “it needs to be softer” or “it’s too chewy.” I’d classify my bread-baking skills with my quilting skills, mainly because of that adaptability and capacity for independent design. I don’t have it nearly as much for other crafts.

My gardening skills are, I think, somewhere between those two states–following instructions and being able to improvise. I’m still consulting books and the Internet and the backs of seed packets, but I’m slowly internalizing a bunch of information on what to plant when and why. I wouldn’t necessarily know what to do if I found, say, leaf curl on a random plant, but I do know why good soil is important. I’m learning what vegetables belong to what families, how they reproduce, what fruits when, why certain kinds of plants need certain care. I’m hardly an expert, but I think I’ll eventually get there.

But I’m not sure I see gardening as creative. Or at least not vegetable gardening. Flower gardening, I could see: the putting together of different colors, shapes, sizes, scents in all the different months of the year. There’s some of that in vegetable gardening, too–succession planting, companion planting, interplanting for either aesthetics or functionality. But I’m not really making anything in my garden other than the structure I call a garden; those higher-level skills are, perhaps, the seeds of mastery, rather than creativity. I see gardening as functional, meditative, perhaps crafty–but not creative.  I sow the seeds, pull the weeds, pick off the bugs; but the pattern was there all along.

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