T H E
G E N E R O U S
G A R D E N E R
Each to their own, and all that – but you can count me out of the current penchant for extensive tattoos. To me, it would be like wearing the same piece of clothing every day, for the rest of my life. And I’d get mighty bored of it.
‘I think gardening makes people happy, don’t you?’ said Penelope Hobhouse the other day, as we sat on her terrace in the summer sunshine, cocooned by a jungle of plants and pots. Well, yes, when it comes down to it, I would agree, whether it is haute horticulture and design as practised by Penelope, or just planting up a window box outside your flat with some herbs for the kitchen. That’s the essence of it. It can also make people unhappy – all that responsibility and hard work, guilt and frustration when things don’t go to plan, and sometimes huge expense. It may not feel like it on a chilly March day with mulch to spread, but, for those of us in a position to choose, gardening is a luxury and a privilege. Most of the gardens in this book are in the British Isles, where the climate continues to be douce, if a little unpredictable. There is (usually) plenty of water, enough sunshine, and highs and lows of temperatures that are bearable. We also a have a huge range of readily available plants that grow well here, without too much effort. If we are unable to tend our patch, or choose not to and let the brambles and the bindweed take over, it may be distressing to witness, but nobody is going to die. Precious ornamental plants may wither to nothing if left untended, but there are always exciting replacements to be discovered in our garden centres and network of wonderful nurseries. Vegetables may be at the mercy of slugs, deer, pigeons and rabbits but the greengrocers and supermarkets are well stocked, and you won’t starve. You can even make it a political statement if you want – go organic, indulge in a spot of guerrilla gardening, or question the established order by means of landforms I n t roduction
And that is why I like gardening. With gardening – and here it differs not only from having your forearm covered with mystic symbols, but also from painting a picture or even decorating a room − you are creating something in which your own efforts are only one element of what you see and experience: the show doesn’t stop, just because you do. Even in the most ordered of spaces plants grow, plants die; they spread and you can move them around, or even get rid of them. The garden is always slightly beyond your control, doing its own thing in its own time. The gardener sows a seed, plants a bulb or a tree and then just has to wait – days, weeks, months, even years. Every season the place will look slightly different, depending on what the weather throws at it and what is happening around it and how you tend to it (or not). That’s what makes it exciting, with something new to experience every time you pass through.