Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Audio Play Icon Headphones Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Check Icon Print Icon Note Icon Heart Icon Filled Heart Icon Single Arrow Icon Double Arrow Icon Hamburger Icon TV Icon Close Icon Sorted Hamburger/Search Icon
Thoughts from a Foreign Field

The secret of successful gardening

Photo/Illustration: James Alexander-Sinclair

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.

Photo/Illustration: James Alexander-Sinclair

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. 

Photo/Illustration: James Alexander-Sinclair

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.

Photo/Illustration: James Alexander-Sinclair

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.

Photo/Illustration: James Alexander-Sinclair

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!

View Comments


  1. Hoehoegrow 08/05/2015

    I often ask myself that same question, when I am out in the garden, chilled to the bone by winter winds. I think I must be driven by hope and optimism, as I rarely ponder when the borders are filled with delphiniums and sweet peas. I garden because it is in my DNA to nurture , in the hope that things are beauty are a result.

    1. rosecolon 05/17/2016

      Feels and reads about right!! Thank you

  2. mvkarthik 08/15/2015

    Such an Inspiring blog, I reshared that. Thank You

  3. diane_lasauce 05/17/2016

    Inspiring tale...and old stone houses and high rock walls are dreamy to boot!

  4. muhammadkamranrajput 03/17/2017

    Aerostylic Aeroponics Grow & Go campaign on indiegogo by Seed Volage Tech called Aerostylic, the luxury aeroponic system to grow plants indoor at home for 60% off retail, pre-order for $560. We hope you are interested. Thank-you.


Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related Articles

The Latest

Magazine Cover

Take your passion for plants to the next level

Subscribe today and save up to 37%

"As a recently identified gardening nut I have tried all the magazines and this one is head and shoulders above the pack."


View All