Thursday, 26 November 2015

Ever decreasing circles

As popular gardening becomes more and more limited in its outlook it's rare to come across anyone daring to go against the flow. Gardening is directed by its fashions, with knowledge and practice of horticultural disciplines giving way to image-rich celebrities, heavily filtered 'vintage' Instagram nostalgia and pithy comments about vegetables and bees. Gardening is no longer about people making their own choices; gardeners are pushed and pulled by marketing campaigns and media stories into thinking that the only way to garden is to buy this product or that, and that anything that doesn't make out that it single-handedly saves the world is of no value.

It's a wonder that some plants manage to hold on against this relentless current. Modern gardening culture teaches us that ponds are dangerous to kids who are certain to drown in them (except for wildlife ponds of course, which must be surrounded by long grass and strictly wild plants but are otherwise OK), that native plants are always better for wildlife than non-native (even though there's increasing evidence that this isn't true), and that any plant that grows quickly is a thug that will destroy your whole garden.
You just don't see Euphorbia 'Fens Ruby' any more
With this blogger/media/retail constriction the diversity of our gardens is sure to suffer. Similarly our ability to express ourselves as anything other than lovers of dreamy 'naturalistic' Oudolf-inspired borders, rolling wildlife meadows or organic food factories is being eroded. Although it's not openly said, it's not really 'allowed' to be different any more. Those who pioneered or found their horticultural home in formerly popular trends like the hardy exotics movement or the whole 'prairie/grasses' thing risk being labelled unfairly as being unfashionable, despite the fact that these gardeners have continued to develop their style even though their own discipline is no longer de rigueur.

For the hardcore enthusiasts being fashionable isn't important, the issue really comes when new gardeners are pushed into particular styles of gardening because they aren't allowed by the garden influencers to be different. Open any of the glossy garden magazines and you will see the same formula time and time again; big [expensive] house with a garden filled with drifts of fashionable perennials, a few from a shortlist of popular/commonly found shrubs, and decorative pieces from their pet sculptor. It's not that these gardens aren't nice, they just become rather repetitive. Editors would argue that they are simply giving people what they want, while in truth they're helping to strangle the ingenuity and individuality out of horticulture. Whole areas of horticulture are sidelined not because they are unpopular per se, but because they never see the light of day. The result? Gardeners are being denied inspiration to make their own way in the world because they aren't being exposed to new and different ideas.
How often do you see carnivorous plants in garden magazines?
As coincidence has it while I was writing this post Anne Wareham published a blog post written by Noel Kingsbury about le Jardin de Berchigranges in France. This quote from Noel illustrates exactly what I'm getting at: “The trouble with most garden-making is that most people care too much about what others think, as they try to impress, or to emulate, or to, and ohmygod I hate this, make an English garden. Why do people in France, in Germany or the USA endlessly try to make English ****** gardens? I’m sick of them. They all end up the same – as a pastel pastiche, while their owners obliviously live the cliché, almost wallowing in their inability to do anything actually creative.”

As a nation of gardeners it seems few gardeners actually relish doing any gardening. 'Gardening' has become something of a dirty word; while so many gardeners enjoy gardens it seems that the whole act of gardening has become something to avoid. There are exceptions, notably with those who grow their own food, but on the whole gardening has gone through a period of labour saving gadgets and techniques and has now ended up as 'labour avoidance'. You can, for a price, buy a robot lawnmower that will mow your lawn for you, and the plants available to most gardeners have been chosen for performance with as little maintenance as it's possible to get away with. No wonder then that formerly common skills like pruning are becoming rare! The modern world makes more demands on us than at any time in the past, yet we're only able to be so busy because we don't spend our time on 'chores' like gardening; ironic then that so many people claim that gardening is restful, relaxing and spiritual rewarding...
Conifers are about as unfashionable as you can get...!
I will fight for anyone's right to enjoy their gardening style, regardless of whether or not I'm 'into it'. Whatever you do, from growing wildflowers or fruit, topiary and carefully tended lawns, lush jungles or herbaceous borders, you should be proud of what you do in your garden. If you go against the flow then credit to you for keeping the less fashionable horticultural disciplines alive. Whether you're into bonsai trees, show Chrysanthemums, carnivorous plants, conifers, alpines, giant vegetables, Fuchsias, ornamental aquatics or anything else that never seems to make it into the public eye, you can at least enjoy what you do. I do, however, share your frustration that the things you love are never shared with the wider gardening community.

You can read the full review of le Jardin de Berchigranges here: