Many years ago, we visited a garden and found box clippings all over a path from the gardener’s hedge cutting. We piled them into a carrier bag, took them home and I made them into cuttings. Which eventually made us our own hedges. Miles of them. (well almost)

Grasses Parterre, Veddw, copyright Charles Hawes

The ex box hedges in winter, now sadly all gone. In the photo just partly gone. Replaced with Osmanthus x burkwoodii, still, of course rather tiny. The Parterre is filled with ornamental grasses. Elsewhere in the garden there are still more box hedges…..Drone picture: copyright Charles Hawes.

I grew ornamental grasses from seed and planted them in the pattern we had made with the hedges, which is based on the local 1841 Tithe Map. Rabbits ate them.

Charles spent a winter fencing the entire ornamental (two acre) garden to keep them out, and we tried again. A long process. But we got there(ish). (Some of the grasses wouldn’t grow for us, of course).

Then we got box blight. And fought it for a dozen years, before, this winter, taking it out and burning it.

This has involved considerable grief.

Tithe-Map Veddw-1841

Some of those who know the Veddw will be able to spot us. This is my copy of the local Tithe Map.

What else? Well, I’ll spare you details, (try the links if you feel you need to know) but, as a sample, we’ve lost two avenues of trees; we’ve had holly blight throughout the woods and garden, including killing some carefully grown standards; we had to have a pool totally remade, (involving a court case) and we killed some yew hedge in a dramatically wet winter last year.

Any keen gardener will be able to tell you tales like this. And yet we are all currently being told that gardening saves people’s ‘mental health.’ Which is a current catch all phrase which I take to refer to depression, anxiety, psychosis, mania, and many other things, perhaps one once called a nervous breakdown, some perhaps brought on by Coronavirus. Gardens make a miracle cure, eh?

Well, I beg to differ. And I read about someone else’s suffering on here too. I’m not saying all this to complain, simply to suggest we get more real. I would hardly make and nurture two acres of ornamental garden if it didn’t give me pleasure. But:

Is it easy?

Many newbies, keenly sowing seeds this spring, will be growing vegetables and they are the hardest gardening of the lot. How many of them will have failures and disappointments – and just blame themselves? How many will actually have their sense of inadequacy and incompetence fed? It’s a lonely thing to imagine everyone else’s glowing success as you contemplate a slug eaten lettuce. Or shrub…

Slug on a flower pot

A lurking nasty.

Garden magazines and websites don’t help. I’m married to a professional garden photographer, so I know the game. Flattery. No photographer goes out to create an accurate and illuminating portrait of a garden, any more than an Instagram star puts up any old selfie taken first thing in the morning.

If the garden photos are sumptuous enough – right light, right season, right angles, right proud owner and all the rest, an editor will send off a writer to write the account of an amazing garden, all blemishes obscured and ignored. I know, I’ve done it. We once used to do features for ‘25 Beautiful Gardens,’ a magazine which is now defunct. Not surprising – a constant supply of any half photographable British gardens at a rate of 25 a season is a total fantasy.

25-Beautiful-Gardens front cover

Notice ‘Real Gardens’ – and laugh…..?

At this juncture you may rightly accuse me of hypocrisy, as we do just the same flattering of our own garden. We need to – we need visitors to help fund the gobble money monster – though brutal truths are there in my blog  And we do invite and welcome criticism. But it is embarrassing, selling.

The Dream

So a novice gardener will see all this fantasy stuff, think about how happy it will make them and wade in – to what? At the very least they will encounter slugs, mildew, aphids, weeds, ants, mice, squirrels, moles and wilt (that’s the gardener..). Why else are there endless streams of ‘experts’ offering advice everywhere you look?

Box-Blight-in-Cardiff-city-centre

This is box blight in a city centre planting.

Let’s stop grinning all the time?

I’ve just been reading an article by a woman who, despite a lot of ‘shock, horror, you can’t do that,’ from her friends, wrote and published nation wide about how devastating it was to have her husband of twenty years walk out on her. She believes that sharing just how traumatic it was will comfort others in the same situation, suffering their own “blindsiding shock, the tormented, sleepless nights, the ugly crying and the gut-wrenching reality of a marriage breakdown.” And that it will help to alleviate the loneliness and isolation abandoned wives suffer.

Dead hedges are not in the same league. Though there has been some weeping, and shouting, and downright misery. Perhaps we could, at least, abandon the remorseless cheerfulness though, for similar reasons?

And be honest that a garden, while a great and treasured resort for us in Covid times, and often a true comfort and joy to us, is not, actually, a panacea for all ills. 

Our very own box blight: ‘Gardening is not a rational activity’. (Margaret Attwood.)