Instead, gardeners spend most of their time seeding and planting and mulching and fertilizing and admiring, then digging up and moving just this one plant, and maybe pruning another back a wee bit or quite severely. Gardening is about promoting and nurturing growth. Writing instruction is about nurturing growth in the flora and fauna of the mind. Good writing instruction requires energies directed towards the blossoming of intellects.
Yet, even the most fecund of gardens suffers if it is not weeded. My roses and herbs can’t preen when Japanese knotweed moves in. I must spend some time weeding, lest the weeds obscure my blooms. Similarly, when mechanical errors clutter up the page, we need to teach our students how to weed. “This! This here is the dread knotweed of tangled syntax! Yank it out! And watch out for effect/affect. You get them confused and you look like an amateur.” Though weeding isn’t gardening, it is part of the process; alas it is the part that most commands the attention of our students.
No one ever compliments a garden because it is weed-free. Yet our students often expect that a weed-free essay is their, and our, aim. When we can help our students see that good writing is about having fruitful ideas that play with light and shadow and color in an intriguing or charming way, that good writing is lush and redolent with suggestive aromas and implications, and that good writing results from rich and thoughtful fertilizer and a generous amount of time to allow for growth, then we will have done our job.