The Cost of a Garden by Tristan Gregory

May 6, 2015

in Articles, General Interest

I have to report, with mixed feelings, that the demands of happy domestic life have taken over one of our best and most prolific contributors. How could I not be happy for Tristan? Or sorry for us?

So this may be one of fewer Tristan Gregory contributions. One thing is for sure: a happy domestic life doesn’t lead to having more money for the garden….

Anne Wareham, editor

Portrait Anne Wareham copyright John Kingdon





The Cost of a Garden by Tristan Gregory:

This can be quite a solitary occupation; gardening.  Often this is one of its great pleasures but every now and then when left alone with your thoughts fairly dismal narratives develop in the mind. This afternoon my brain played host to one of them. You may be familiar with it, as it’s the one about how expensive gardening is becoming and whether it really has a popular future.

Something I am assuming we all care about is  the expense that people are cutting out.  Let’s be honest: at £7.50 each for half a dozen Echinacea pallida and a dozen Stipa tenuissima, not to mention all of the other sundries and concrete dogs you may walk out of the Garden Centre with, it starts to look like a choice between a planting for your out-door room or some other fairly fundamental things – eating being one.  Furthermore anyone who thinks that people who can’t afford to garden will go and visit them  instead or read books and magazines about them is mistaken.

Oscar the Garden Gnome at Veddw SAM_9724

Garden Centre treat?

The problem, at least as I see it, is not that gardening itself is too expensive, rather that the way we garden has ballooned in price.  We have been convinced that buying everything ready grown and getting experts in for every last thing is the same common sense approach as buying your bread rather than milling your own flour from grain you grew yourself next to your pigsty.  In my opinion this is not economics, it’s marketing.

It is probably worth saying at this point that I am not one of these people that grows everything in yogurt pots filled with mole-hill soil or raids the road sides for my protein. But there is a normal state between that sort of slightly alarming mania and foregoing the mortgage repayment  in order to keep in step with the suggestions of Gardens Illustrated.

Gardens Illustrated with review of Veddw by Noel Kingsbury SAM_9725

(incidentally, yes, Gardens Illustrated once did a real critique of a garden…)

Probably foremost amongst the craft skills we need to make a garden is design.  While you might struggle to translate your ideas into a plan, that struggle will produce something closer to what you want than buying someone else’s vision for the plot and being told that you do actually like Sedums.

Second there is landscaping which might include things for which you need equipment and engineers but at another level there is very little to fear in bricks, cement and gravel and a great deal of satisfaction to be found in building something like a dry-stone wall.

Dry stone wall at Veddw SAM_9728

Then of course you have propagation and general plantsmanship. While it is easy to tell yourself that once you have bought all of the stuff you need it would be cheaper to buy the plant, I will say again – £7.50 for one Echinacea pallida?  Yogurt pots are one thing but were you planning to get your seed trays cast in solid silver?

Seed tray on thinkingardens

The great joy in all of this is that while early attempts may not go brilliantly the more you do a thing the more accomplished you become. The garden will start to feedback an evolving vision of how to develop and improve the space. I would be interested to know which of the great gardens of today were done in one go.

I have even found that with the self-criticism that leads me to re-plant or re-build comes a capacity to accept in good heart the criticism and advice of others. Whereas spending a great deal of money on a thing you don’t understand and can’t explain might lead to quite the opposite response.

Tristan Gregory

Head gardener at Kentchurch

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