Why do we garden? Where does our gardening style come from? N8N’s garden writer Kelly Dyer hands over to husband Mark Willoughby for his ruminations on these eternal questions.
About time I got a word in edgewise. Any accusation that this is a ruse to get me out of turning the compost again is probably accurate.
Now, monthly updates on gardens are all very well and good (plants still green, some bits are bigger than they used to be, some bits are different coloured), but there’s a certain lack of the real stuff behind the garden. Yes, the plants are the real bits involved, but we know what they’re going to do – get bigger and edible-er, or get nibbled to bits by whichever blight/plague of gerbils is fashionable this week.
And if you’re after that sort of thing, then there are garden magazines galore to peruse. Being the one who usually ends up getting stuck in and doing the mucky stuff in the garden*, I suspect that we need to get down to the real reason behind why we garden.
What good is having a huge, productive, sumptuous garden full of life, colour and enough adjectives to make an English teacher weep if the bloke down the street has a nicer one? Seen another way, why has Mr Jones done his best to make his shiner than yours?
Yours is producing enough food to feed a tribe as it is, the neighbours are beginning to refuse donations over the fence because they’re sick to death of zucchinis, so why did you grow this much?
Because you’re showing off.
I will admit to this myself, Kelly and I do show off with our garden, we like being complimented on it, and we love how it compares to the little vege patch next door. But our motivation behind the current garden is a bit more than just sneering at local version. A slight digression may be necessary to highlight this, but bear with me and we’ll see where we end up.
Kelly and I have been together for quite some time now, married for about half of it, and we’ve had our own home for about three years. In that time we’ve managed to bring together bits and pieces of our own personal feel for what must be in a garden, without more than the occasional lump of turf thrown. I think we’re slightly ahead of the game here.
But what shaped our concepts of what a garden ought to be in the first place? It’s the old nature versus nurture thing again, and the answer’s pretty obvious: Parents.
Kelly and I both have keen gardening fathers, with quite contrasting styles. There’s a lot in common between the two these days, enough total hair for one of them for instance. Both live in the same city, (for the younger readers – a little forethought goes a long way for cheaper Christmas travel) both were raised by middle-class folk. Both use composts, avoid the nastier sprays, and grow lots of food for themselves and their families.
But here things get different. My Dad has a wild system of newspaper-based beds scattered wherever there’s room, accompanied by a collection – nay, an agglomeration – of fruiting plants and trees, and all running riot against any available lawn which is brave enough to provide a source of mulch.
In comparison my Father-in-Law has demarcated an area, tended it well, removed any weeds which turn up (which says a lot for his vision as – at well over six-foot tall – some of those weeds are a long way away), planted a few, well-tended and pruned fruit trees, all very tamed and controlled. Even the lawn is mown to exacting standards: the term ‘shaving’ is often applied to its care.
Now do not get me wrong. I look up to both these gentlemen, I really do. I look forward every year to the plums and potatoes we get from my In-Laws, the best plums I’ve had since I was old enough to climb a plum tree and spend a sticky day devouring all within reach. And it’s always a joy to go to my parents place and saunter round the garden, nibbling the odd leaf of this and that, discussing the new plants, marvelling at how the new trees were shoehorned in, and having huge salads for lunch.
But it’s a contrast of style. One garden – as you may have gathered- is tidy, organised and manicured. The other is rampant, frolicsome and boisterous. It’s got nothing to do with productivity; both produce huge arrays of food. Now that I think about it, it’s similar to the facial hair on the two. One has a trimmed moustache; the other has usually more beard than ought to be carried with just one face (the term ‘load-bearing chin’ springs to mind).
And from this melting pot of ideals, designs, techniques and training emerges the garden that Kelly and I share. And you can see the influences straight away. The flowing, curvy garden edged with field-tiles has recently been hemmed and tidied with the tubes substituted for planks.
The higgledy-piggledy chicken-tractor beds are shortly to be regimented into a more useful shape. On the other hand, the front lawn has an array of wildflowers photosynthesizing joyously around citrus trees, and the new native garden loops curvaceously along the boundary. There’s influences from both sides obvious – diversity and rambunctiousness** meeting discipline and control.
So now you know what the garden looks like. But why have we done this?
Well, there’s probably something Freudian in it. You know. The guy who lent his name to the Faux-pas where you said one thing but meant your mother. Yes, him.
Kelly and I both have to show that we can do this whole growing-stuff thing too. It’s an act of independence, of competition. Our raised garden rivals that of my in-laws in acreage, and if we’re not yet surpassing my folks in terms of fruit trees, we’re starting to give them a run for their money. ‘You see?’ we declare with our vegetables and fruit-trees, ‘We can do it too! And what’s more, we do it better!’
And we do. We’ve incorporated components that neither of our fathers have yet done, chicken tractors for instance.
But it does make me feel sorry for any potential offspring of Kelly and I. Will they be required to produce food on a commercial scale in order to feel adequate? Or will they rebel entirely, living in an apartment somewhere in London with a garden consisting of three small rocks and a tortoise named Hubert? It could go either way, but I do hope they’ll occasionally come and lend a hand eating all this stuff we’re growing.
And for the record – I have neither beard nor moustache, but my sidies are whispered of by Schick*** employees late at night around campfires.
*Based on an opinion poll of all those who wrote this article.
** Especially in the lawn.
*** (That’s not the Hamilton Schick Construction and Cartage employees, we trust -ed.)