Do me a big favour? by Anne Wareham

December 22, 2017

in Articles, General Interest

Do me a big favour – share this with someone who finds gardens totally boring 

Anne Wareham, editor

 

I recently published a piece here, by Tim Ingram, asking what the purpose of a garden is. Tim basically said a garden is for botanical interest, for learning and for enjoying the pleasures of plants. And the responses indicated that, yes, this is the sort of thing a garden is for.

At the same time I was remaking the gate to the woods at Veddw, and the difference in perspective hit me hard. Including ideas in the garden about the history of the site, about time, about previous occupants, is obviously a bit remote from the preoccupations of most gardeners. 

And why wouldn’t it be? Why would gardeners concern themselves about such things? Some might. Most won’t.

It’s hard to explain the excitement I feel to stand somewhere and think of the people who have lived, worked, created, built and rebuilt on that very same piece of land or in that very building over thousands of years. It relates to my love of history – an engagement which is at least as big for me as an engagement with gardens, and much bigger than my interest in plants. (see some of my research on our local history here) And a large part of my making and sharing the garden is wanting to share that excitement with others.

That Population Gate, Veddw, copyright Anne Wareham

Soon to become a gate to the woods.

But why would gardeners be especially interested in such things just because I am? They are about as likely to be as any random sample of the general population – which is not none, but all the same, a small percentage. So making such a garden is a bit like writing a novel, only to discover that people are only interested in what words you use and whether they are unusual. (The analogy fails over the food growing, as not many people eat books. I’ll avoid plot jokes too…)

I was also struck once again by how off putting the notion of gardens as art must be to the average gardener. Sounds pretentious and out of reach. And expensive, if you think Portrack… All totally irrelevant if you are most interested in growing veggies, or growing lots of different plants.

The Stone, Veddw, copyright Charles Hawes

This is also not a plant.

Well, people might just visit a garden because it’s beautiful.

I wonder how many people have completely cleared their new garden in order to make a truly fresh start and give themselves the chance of making a truly personal and hopefully beautiful garden? That might be one indicator of how dedicated to aesthetics most gardeners are? And it is very rare.

Why wouldn’t it be? You don’t need to do that mostly to grow the plants you love and/or vegetables. I think most gardeners find beauty in the plants themselves rather than the effect they may create. I was in an audience of RHS members once when someone mentioned garden design. There was an huge groan.

Television in the Woods at Veddw, copyright Charles Hawes

One garden writer was truly offended to find this in our wood.

There are gardens aiming beyond horticulture: Little SpartaThe Garden of Cosmic SpeculationPlaz Metaxu, Patterson Webster’s Glen VillaThrougham Court, and Sir Roy Strong’s exercise in modesty, The Laskett.

So some gardens merit or need a totally different audience, who need to have no interest in growing things. In fact, those non gardeners who don’t get distracted by wondering about the name of a plant or the sight of a weed are some of the most perceptive and stimulating visitors we get at Veddw, rare as they are.

But how can we more generally reach such an audience when gardens exist and are discussed only in such a closed, horticultural world?

Veddw seat, copyright Charles Hawes

I’ve compounded this issue for myself by writing a book, The Deckchair Gardener, which is primarily for non gardeners, about how those people stuck with a garden and no interest in gardening can cope with the thing outside and maybe even enjoy it. Without much tedious gardening. But it has ‘gardener’ in the title and is marketed in gardening sections of bookshops and websites – how will it ever reach such people? This really brought home to me what a closed world gardeners are in.

Television in the woods at Veddw, copyright Anne Wareham

Shameless advertising

 

So – just to help, (not with selling the book, though you never know..) perhaps you might put this post in front of someone you know who is not a gardener and has no interest in gardens.

And discuss it with them? Open the gates of the garden ghetto and let the whole world in?

Happy Christmas! Xxxx

Anne Wareham

Website

Subscribe to the thinkinGardens Blog

Enter your email address to get new articles from the thinkinGardens blog by email:

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Diana Studer January 3, 2018 at 10:13 am

As Cape Town battles drought and severe water restrictions, many people who find gardens and gardening boring hard work, leap at the chance to cover everything with hardscaping and Look! a pot.

I am more focused on sustaining biodiversity.
Art is a bonus.

My wish list this year includes visiting Babylonstoren. That is a large garden I have been following (online) as it has established and developed.

Reply

annewareham January 3, 2018 at 11:14 am

I do know what a tiny minority I am in. But I don’t garden with concrete. Xx

Reply

Pat Witts December 31, 2017 at 1:33 pm

As a PS to the general comment I’ve already made, and to offer a suggestion of how to attract non-gardeners to visit gardens, maybe an article in a suitable (non-gardening) magazine arguing that gardens can be art? Content perhaps less important than the opportunity to include enticing pics. Plant the idea that garden visits can be a way of getting the benefit without having to do any of the work.

Or a critique of existing gardens belonging to the National Trust or attached to properties that are Art Fund venues? They both have magazines with large circulations. That would reach audiences predisposed to visiting places and could open their eyes to the green bits they pass through on the way to the house/museum/gallery as well as suggesting other, even more interesting, green bits they could seek out…

Good luck and happy new year!

Reply

annewareham December 31, 2017 at 3:25 pm

That’s a good idea. I have tried critique (http://veddw.com/general/if-you-tell-a-lie-big-enough-by-anne-wareham/). But that hardly made a case for visiting the Laskett. I will definitely think about that possibility and where such a piece could be placed. Thank you! Xxx

Reply

Stuart Pryde December 30, 2017 at 5:14 pm

“For Ian the naturalistic aspects of the garden were so important that if someone visited and got none of the references but loved the planting then that would be fine.”
In the notebook of my visit to Little Sparta in 2010 I have recorded this as a quote from the gardener. The quote mattered to me because it was so inclusive. It allowed me to enter this garden of beauty without being intimidated by its meaning and consequently allowed me to enjoy both. Of course, it also told me that there was indeed a meaning to find if I wished. I summarised my experience as:
“This is a truly wonderful garden – the only garden, so far, to have moved me to tears. Very special.”
The next time I experienced anything remotely similar in a garden was when I visited Veddw on a very wet Sunday in June 2016 on what would have been my late wife and I’s 20th Anniversary. The most telling note I wrote was when I first entered and saw the sight before me:
“I was stopped in my tracks.”
To my mind, both these gardens are profound and beautiful works of art, so I need no convincing that gardens can be more than just a collection of plants for botanical learning, aesthetic pleasure, relaxation or entertaining in an outdoor room.

Anne raises the question, however, of how a wider audience can be made aware of this reality when nearly the whole of TV, magazines, newspapers and adverts discuss gardens only in terms of horticulture, leisure and design. Why should gardens be any different from books? Paintings? Sculptures? Plays? All these things can be enjoyed and discussed on all levels from the purely pleasurable to the magnificently enlightening and challenging. So why not gardens? A good question, to which I have no good answer. In the past I might have suggested naively that “we need to change what schools include in their discussions of art and what universities include in History of Art”. However, it would appear I do not have that power!

Perhaps, though, the internet should give us hope of a breakthrough. For some time, other art has been easily accessed directly by most people if they choose e.g. books, poetry and texts of plays through public libraries; paintings and sculptures through free art galleries; music through the relatively affordable recordings. Of course, all these collections were still being filtered by someone else but these filterers at least had a belief these works could be about something more than mere decoration or distraction. The filterers of horticulture would appear to have been of a different bent. What the Internet now allows is for us to bypass the filterers. Even if we cannot get to visit all the gardens with artistic aspirations, we can at least access their websites, their tweets, and their ideas with relative freedom and ease. And we can begin to make up our own minds of what we want gardens, including our own gardens if we have them, to be about.

However, for me, if we are serious about trying to extend the appreciation of what gardens can be about then inclusion is a key. It’s no good sneering at those who like plants for their own sake, at those who get excited when the first seed they have sown breaks through the soil or those who never tire of the startling colour contrast of marigold and lobelia in summer (me). To consider books again, I love “Les Miserables” and “Five Go Camping.” I would say Victor Hugo’s creation is the greater one not least because it truly fires my soul when I read it and makes me ponder life, the universe and everything. Enid Blyton does not do that for me, but then she wasn’t trying to. Sometimes I am in the mood for a straightforward yarn with some questionable stereotypes and she meets that need perfectly. So why sneer – either way? The best thing, I think, is to try to help people see there is a path (a garden path?) that can lead you to all manner of places and that you don’t have to be intellectual, wealthy, or expert in design to get there – not that there is anything wrong if you are all of those things too.

The trouble for me, and for many I suspect, is that even if we wanted to create our own artworks we know our own gardens are very transient. It is unlikely any Trust or enthusiastic fan club is going to preserve my little patch of ground even if it speaks articulate volumes about people and place and time and . . . er . . . transience. Indeed, my last garden was paved over within a year of my moving and my pond moved to make way for a garage. Such is the reality of many of our modern lives.

But, if gardens like Little Sparta and Veddw can ignite creative sparks, most of which are extinguished almost as soon as they are lit, some of it will take. Maybe fire is not the best analogy when talking about gardens but this article has lit a fire under me. I suspect I have not remotely addressed the issues raised by Anne, but it has made me think again about my own space. I like being in my garden but I had lost my creative spark. I feel this winter that has been rekindled by this article, so thank you for that.

Reply

annewareham December 31, 2017 at 11:48 am

I’m sure I am guilty of sneering, Stuart, and it’s very bad of me. It comes from real, painful frustration though, sneaking out like the steam from a slightly released pressure cooker. Writing this piece brought home to me once again what a fish out of water I feel to be, talking to fellow gardeners who generally speaking understand me not one bit. And as a compulsive (if shy) communicator, that is very hard.

I do hope that the internet will free us up in the way you suggest – and indeed it has. I can have discussions with serious gardeners all over the world, and even if they don’t share my perspective, they are often challenging, engaging and exhilarating. Hence this website.

Thank you for your very full response – and your kind words about Veddw. Visitors like you are treasure! Xxxxx

Reply

Stuart Pryde December 24, 2017 at 10:50 pm

I have shared this on my facebook page – only a handful of my friends actually like gardening – be interesting to see if any respond.

Reply

Pat Witts December 23, 2017 at 10:07 pm

Love the website and the trains of thought it provokes. Maybe the question is what is our own garden for, and what are garden visits for? Not necessarily the same thing. Mine is for sitting in, pottering, enjoying the flowers but without really knowing the names. But visiting is wholly different. If all I get are plants, however pretty, it feels underwhelming. It’s the Veddws and Portracks and Little Spartas that are memorable years after. Merry Christmas to all who provide such delights for the rest of us.

Reply

annewareham December 24, 2017 at 1:41 pm

Thank you. And yes – this is right, visiting can be wholly different. Which opens it up also to non gardeners who are open to similar experiences as yourself. If it ever occurs to them… Xxx

Reply

Linda Casper December 23, 2017 at 3:24 pm

I don’t know anyone who finds gardens totally boring, nor would I wish to. A garden can be many things to many and thank you Anne for your interesting blog reminding us of this.

Reply

annewareham December 24, 2017 at 1:43 pm

I do know quite a few and they are totally all right people with no noticeable tendency to bite. But I do like being interesting: thank you. xxx

Reply

Katherine Crouch December 22, 2017 at 10:33 pm

I have never met anyone who finds all gardens totally boring.
When I first visited Veddw, I almost had to drag my 10 year old son down the car park, insisting he came with me. He and his 8 year old sister had a wonderful time exploring, pronouncing the garden ‘cool’. I asked him to repeat that to you and you said ‘there is no higher praise’.
I have met many many people who find actual gardening boring (who must be given Deckchair Gardener for Christmas), and many people who find the excesses of Chelsea Flower Show and conceptual gardens incomprehensible or pretentious. And there are many gardens that are boring. Mine is…but it’s not really mine, but rented and small and mostly a tarmac drive.
I also know of many people for whom gardening is simply not on the radar, and would no more contemplate gardening that I would consider taking up pole dancing. It is most gratifying to hear such people, upon opening the door to my (own design) best pub garden, utter the ultimate accolade, “F**k me!”. Treasured moments.

Reply

annewareham December 24, 2017 at 1:47 pm

A pub garden such as yours is the ideal emissary for us. More strength to your arm and great brain! Xxx

Reply

Patrick Regnault December 22, 2017 at 10:12 pm

Iwill share your article not only to “non-gardeners” but also to the hardening world. We do need to get out of any ghetto we create and indeed the gardening/horticulture world is not immune to those.
If we, as a profession, want to make sure gardens keep being used, created, enjoyed by a large number of people, we need to be open to a vast array of thoughts. Garden design do not really start with plants but with pathways. To make people want to enter and discover the garden we need to attract them to it. Many ways to do it of course and that would require an entire article and discussion by itself.
PS: Ilove the tv and chair in the woods

Reply

annewareham December 24, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Thanks re PS. xx And – if you have thoughts and ideas about how we might attract people I would be more than happy to publish it here. Which might help. (Or not – since our readers tend to be gardeners…..?)

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post: