What is the point of gardening? Why do so many people spend so much time and effort digging, snipping, mowing, pruning, sowing and reaping? What is the attraction of fossicking about in the cold and muddy outdoors? Surely it would be easier to just go to the supermarket rather than struggle through briars and bindweed? Some people (and almost all teenagers) really do not get the point of all this taming of nature.
I came late to gardening. I left school with no real idea about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I toyed with acting, photography, journalism, bar tending, selling encyclopedias, advertising, washing up, cloakroom attendant and Father Christmas. But it was not until I was persuaded to stop lying on the sofa for long periods of time that I found myself in my sister’s garden holding a spade. It would be going too far to say that I was struck by a sudden epiphany and that the skies echoed to the sound of green fingered angels singing Alleluia but it just felt right. From that moment on, through a mixture of complete bluff and endeavour, I have succeeded in making a living in and around other people’s gardens.
Therefore I feel that I am in a reasonable position to try and answer my own question: what is the point of gardening? There are so many reasons ranging from an urge to grow pumpkins the size of camels to a wish to make the world more beautiful. Some people garden because they wish to raise plants of great rarity, some treat the whole thing as a physical challenge that must be met (a more domestic version of trudging across the tundra). Many house owners consider gardening a chore that has to be endured in order that they can barbeque untroubled by invasive vegetation while others do it because they want a lawn as smooth and blemish free as the coat of an otter. Perhaps they garden just to impress the neighbours with their expertise or in order to make sure their families eat vegetables unsullied by nitrates and pesticides. Gardening has an interesting mixture of control and complete resignation. It is the pleasure of allowing some things to grow wild and untrammeled while others are pruned and persuaded to do precisely what they are told.
I garden because I love plants and the innumerable ways in which they come together – either through skill or serendipity. Of course there is a certain satisfaction in concocting a perfect conjoining of paths or creating an idyllic place to sit and enjoy the sunset but, no matter how exquisite, a patio never stirred the soul. Instead every plant, no matter how humble, can be capable of bringing warmth to the heart and a spring to the step. From the ridged bark of the grandest oak smiling down upon a scampering of nodding Anenomes, a lacy leaf fluttering coquettishly around the knees of a perfect rose or a scalding red flower surrounded by a chorus of ruffled green. Not forgetting a muddied new potato, a brittle green bean or the juice of a dripping pear: these are the things that give meaning to a gardener’s toils.
The purpose of gardening is to make people happy: not just the gardeners but those who enjoy the things they create. The destiny of garden designers is to help people see the great frothing blur of potential that begins just outside their back doors. The secret of successful gardening? That I cannot tell you but if you are enjoying yourself then you are very close to finding out for yourself.
Read more from James in the Thoughts from a Foreign Field blog!
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