I’m sometimes asked to include images of my own garden in my slideshow when I give a talk. I always make a point of including this photograph, which shows what my garden looks like in the middle of winter, when all the flowering perennials are cut down to the ground. It’s beautiful in June, but it looks like crap in January. Here’s UK writer Anne Wareham, author of The Bad-Tempered Gardener, to stir the pot on the question of perfect magazine gardens–and their opposite:
It’s hard to know what the US and the UK actually have in common in our gardening. We do seem to have some interesting differences. Like edge to edge lawns fronting your houses with never even a fence in between? Very strange to the British with our fetish about privacy, and self consciousness about being seen in the garden, even fully clothed. And whoever heard of dyed mulch??? Approved Exterior Plant Selection??? And does anyone on the US open their gardens to the public?
Interesting questions. But I bet we have one thing in common – a tendency for all garden media to overdose on the positive and treat us to arm waving enthusiasm about everything horticultural? For some reason it appears impossible to approach gardens and gardening soberly, reflectively and as if we are intelligent grown ups.
Here are some examples, picked randomly by turning the pages of a magazine. Someone, straight faced, describes their own garden thus: “Suddenly it is full of twinkling colour, as though the ground had been scattered with jewels.” Someone else’s garden is “a sublime blend of pretty planting and effortless style”. A flower show, inevitably, “Despite mixed temperatures…did not disappoint” (would they tell us if it did? They would not.) Plants never turn their toes up for no good reason and none come with faults except vigour and good health described as ‘thuggishness’.
And just to annoy any of us with less than perfect gardens and some less than ideal plants, each article is prefaced by people with inane grins. Makes me choke over my cornflakes.
Garden websites are the same, all talking their gardens up, so that the hapless traveller might imagine that the UK is full of amazingly great gardens. Which sadly is far from the case. (see http://thinkingardens.co.uk/garden-tweets/ for greater accuracy) When I put up my new revised website for my own garden with occasional comments about my failures and difficulties, someone emailed me to tell me I ought to talk it up more.
Someone tweeted me today, with reference to a garden blog which discussed the difficulties of keeping a border going all summer, to say “Very interesting piece and helpful too, partly just because I discover that “proper” gardeners actually have same problems as me – oddly comforting!” (Jean Sherry) How many people harbour feelings of shame and embarrassment at failures and problems in their gardens which are simply ordinary. Or feel inadequate because they fail to feel the prescribed level of passionate delirium every time they step outside?
The irony is that the garden media love to tell us that achieving garden paradises is simple and that they will tell us how. They then proceed to instruct us in all the most difficult and labour intensive ways of doing everything. But that’s another story…