Dissatisfaction. Frustration. Discontent. Gloom. These are a few of my least favourite things.
And yet, so often my garden – and I am talking here about the garden at home – is the cause of this unhappy sequence of emotions. We have lived here for 19 years this summer, and the garden has seen some significant changes in that time. There is now only one big old apple tree, where there were three apples and a damson when we arrived. The damson and one apple died and fell; the second apple made way for a seating/dining area at the far end of the garden. A big Bay tree has come and gone: it came as a potted tree 2 feet tall, and went as a mighty thing 20’ tall last weekend, having massively outgrown its space. There is a greenhouse where there used to be a vegetable patch, before which was lawn. And the lawns – patches of grass, let’s be honest – have both shrunk and deteriorated. The big apple tree now gives hang to a swing seat and a rope ladder, which has more or less stripped the area around it of grass. And there’s a small, purple-painted wooden house belonging to my 5 year old daughter.
The garden is certainly better than when we came to live here – more plants, more interesting layout – but it still falls so short of my ideal, and doesn’t feel like two decades’ worth of gardening has made sufficient mark. I look at what others have achieved in the same, or less, time and I feel very discontented. Where are the borders full of vibrant, glowing perennials? Where are the mature climbers covering fences and walls?
In short, why does the garden strike me more often as ‘half empty’ (at best) rather than ‘half full’? Why does it threaten and oppress me, rather than inviting me out to enjoy it? Is it just my rather melancholic nature?
In part, no doubt, it is. The irony being, of course, that as a professional gardener I spend all my working days and weeks on other people’s gardens, trying to make (and then keep) them pleasurable and attractive. Time is also a big consideration: so much gardening, so little time. And also, I firmly believe, the constant exposure to other – frankly, better – gardens in books and magazines. Just as the image of the perfect (sic) body in fashion magazines gives rise to all manner of unhealthy psychological and physical responses in young women (and men); the ‘perfect’ garden as portrayed in the gardening media can breed similar levels of dissatisfaction. Of course, looking at other gardens in print, on television, in the flesh, often provides inspiration – but it can also have the opposite effect. Even allotments, so long the resort of untidiness and happy muddle, are now more often represented as oases of lush greenery and chic recycling. Where is the mud in the magazines? When did a television gardening programme last show a raised bed (re)infested with Couch Grass or Ground Elder?
The answer to my problem is perhaps two-fold. Firstly, to stop poring over filtered, perfectly-lit, essentially make-believe images of gardens: the camera always lies. Secondly, to strive for a more relaxed and accepting mentality in my own garden. Embrace the limitations – time, money, childrens’ ball games – live and garden in the moment and celebrate the good fortune of owning a garden at all. Loving what is there, rather than worrying about what isn’t.