Whether it's political, social, educational, recreational or avocational, I believe gardening is a combination of all those factors.
Political because politically-influenced policies, regulations and laws will trickle down to effect my environment; what seeds I plant; how clean my air will be; and the safety of my water source...among other things. Social because where more than one gardener gathers, either in person or on the internet, some sort of personal interaction ensues.
It's educational because any gardener worth their weight in compost can tell you - or they should tell you - that they never stop learning. Hence, my life-long-held philosophy that there is no such thing as "an expert gardener". That often-times, self-appointed title presumes a particular gardener knows all there is to know about gardening with little or no wiggle room for any further information to penetrate their already overwhelmingly-overloaded and permanently-closed-for-repairs font of gardening knowledge. Phooey!
Recreational because, gosh darn it, it's fun. It only ceases to be fun when it's laced with pain. Even then, as long as the pain isn't too persistent and can, at least, be managed, there's still a modicum of fun involved sometimes in just the simple gardening act of pruning. Of course, who amongst us hasn't spent less time pruning and more time just standing and staring at the sky, the birds, dashing antics of chipmunks, tall stalks bending in the breeze or just felt the all-encompassing calm enfold us in warm layers from an errant sun peaking between drifting clouds in that sky which so mesmerizes us? All this "fun", despite increasing aches & pains and knees that refuse to bend as much or hips that snap, crackle and pop like that old bowl of Rice Krispies this old fart remembers from my 1950's breakfast table, or the reality that we just can't keep doing what we've been doing the way we've been doing it or to the extent to which we've been doing it....it's still the best form of recreation even for us creaky, old fart gardeners.
Finally, it's an avocation because, I've chosen to devote as much time to it as one would devote to an honest-to-goodness-money-earning job. I don't get paid for it, but I do it anyway. These days, however, I find myself 'avocating' less and less in the garden. Not out of choice, but necessity. Yet what I do do still provides a requisite necessity of diversion; a physical and metaphysical diversion which works better than any bullet on which I can bite to 'ease the pain' of what ails me at the moment be it physiological or psychological.
Consequently, if it's pain I'm trying to escape, then the last thing I want to invite into my circle of diversion is any talk or thoughts of any form of pain- either my own pain or any pain of the animals who share my garden of solace.
My garden has become more and more a safe haven for me and all creatures who've deigned to share it with me, and I might add, who have allowed me to share it with them! Many are creatures who others would dispatch and snuff with nary a care, concern or whit, if it meant protecting a petunia, a tomato plant or even an expensive, long-standing shrub of some kind or just for the shear, unfathomable ego of mounting a dead animal over a mantelpiece.
I need my garden- and all living things in it - to help 'ease my pain'. My contribution and thanks to them for that gift is that I will try to do whatever is in my power to ease theirs. I speak, as always, from a gardener's - not a farmer's - perspective. My garden is my avocation...not a vocation. So my ability to sacrifice that petunia, tomato plant or expensive shrub (on which I probably shouldn't have spent so much money to begin with) is not tied to my living wage or sustenance.
I am an organic gardener endeavoring to remain true to the tenet of "doing the least harm". I'm merely given the privilege of sharing my piece of earth with those who, in reality, have more of a right to exist there than I do and who did so long before my arrival. I figure if they can endure my frailties, faults, mistakes, errors, and downright stupidity, then the least I can do is offer them the same gift, leniency and forgiveness in return.
My circle of acquaintances and topics of gardening conversations has grown tighter these day and totally removed from those who relish and regale the number and methodologies of murder and pain inflicted upon the (perhaps) distant cousins of my extended animal families who reside in or around my place of solace. From the smallest chipmunk to the beautiful, gentle deer families with their babies in tow who grace my back yard...all are welcome in my garden. They have nothing to fear from this gardener and I have everything in a spiritual sense to gain from them.
Time and life is shorter than we think. Too short to waste. Too short not to recognize how sacred all Life is. Pain is too frequent in the world. At the hand of God and nature, it is beyond my control, whether in my garden or out. Yet I can still mourn. At the hand of Man, however, I can not only mourn, but my conscience cannot condone it by silence, and it's my choice to disassociate myself with the multitudes who casually dismiss the pain, suffering and death of God's creatures' as inconsequential.
I am an idealist, some may say. Some will also say I'm naive. (A concept so removed from my personality, it's more than just a little ludicrous to even contemplate.) Some will say I've grown reclusive. But then, if they really knew me, they'd know this already. Some may have confrontational comments about this entry. I don't know whether I should be flattered or annoyed for all "they" might have to say. But then, I'd have to give care in the first place, now wouldn't I? And guess what?