Anyone who follows me on Instagram (@bensbotanics) will probably have come to the conclusion that I’m a bit of a ‘plant nerd’. I’m writing this article in the spare bedroom of my little house in Devon, UK, surrounded by my gardening books.
I love plants. I love seeing them, finding out about them, I love growing them. What isn’t apparent from my ‘public face’ is that I have a very modest garden of my own. Circumstances (working in a low-paid industry – horticulture!) mean that I must rent my home; I’m lucky to have a garden at all.
Nowhere to grow!
Until a couple of years ago I didn’t have a garden. I had a concrete yard at the back of my house and an area of pots at the front, but beyond that I had nothing. I’ve more than doubled the outdoor space that I had, and I now have soil to grow in!
I know how lucky I am. I have friends, other professional gardeners, who have little balconies or even no outdoor space at all. The urge to grow is strong with all of us; we all grow something at home, but it’s mainly our places of work that allow us to indulge our interests.
Possession is 9/10ths…
The gardening world is obsessed with owning plants and gardens. Modern gardening culture is little more than a new spin on the 19th century aristocracy, with the garden owners demonstrating their status by showing their possessions to the world.
Magazines (those collections of advertisements you buy in the hope of finding actual content) are full of the same old stories; “Harry and Henrietta restored their cottage in the country and then set about turning the five acres of wilderness into a garden that reflects their personal values.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased for “Harry and Henrietta” and I’m glad they’ve been able to find somewhere nice to make a garden. I just don’t need the same “look how lucky we are to own a garden” stories every time I open a magazine.
Few of us will ever actually achieve that goal of ‘dream home and garden’, so that world is something that we can only look in on. Yes it is nice to look in at what other people get up to, but beyond that are the constant succession of indulgent articles just voyeuristic?
Can you love plants and gardens without owning a garden?
If the world of ‘popular gardening’ is to be believed then no. It appears that to be a great gardener you must be in a position to buy yourself a great garden.
I disagree with this idea. I’ve met too many wonderfully talented plant and garden enthusiasts, experts even, who don’t have a big garden (if they have a garden at all). They, we, live vicariously through the gardens and green spaces around us.
We gain enormous pleasure from a tree in the street. We become expert at appreciating the gardens we visit, and learn so much about the plants we see without ever owning them for ourselves. We’re blessed with some wonderful gardening books (oh the treasures you find in thrift stores and second hand book stores if you look carefully!), we have websites, online resources and social media to look at, and we can also indulge our interest on trips out.
Because we don’t have to maintain a large garden of our own we are liberated, free to enjoy the best of gardens and gardening without having to be encumbered with the responsibility of having to maintain a large space ourselves.
And so I raise a toast to all the passionate and enthusiastic plant experts and gardeners out there who don’t get to make their dream gardens.