By Rhiannon Allen
I have been spending a lot of time this year visiting people in their gardens, and am struck with how varied their attitudes are towards their gardens. Some gardeners are apologetic about their lovely gardens, while others are bursting with pride over their own.
Of course, some of this variation is probably due to perfectionism, temperament and modesty. However, the array of attitudes makes me think about what people want to get out of their gardens.
For many, a garden is a space that affords a happy outdoor summer lifestyle, a place to spend pleasurable time with family and friends. A nicely designed patio, a barbeque, perhaps a play space and a few plants that provide a backdrop for summer relaxation make such gardeners happy. Some fruiting plants like tomatoes, plums and raspberries for snacking out of hand will enhance the whole experience but are just icing on the cake.
For another gardener, it might be all about color. Forget about fruit, and instead have great three-season splashes of color from the earliest spring daffodils, through summer lavender and roses, right through to autumn’s rudbeckia, and perhaps some small trees whose leaves flush red, yellow or copper as temperatures drop.
For a year-round resident, shrubs with colored winter branches will prompt smiles throughout the winter. Some color-oriented gardeners might even have a commitment to a particular color scheme.
Over the years, I have re-homed and taken in plants that gardeners maintained spoiled their gardens because the exact shade was not harmonious. I hope that those gardeners are now happy with their re-mastered color palettes.
Many gardeners want to recreate a garden of childhood memory. Often, this entails particular plants reminiscent of a beloved friend, relation or community. But what if those plants cannot be purchased or will not thrive here? A shady, forested lot is unlikely to satisfy someone whose aesthetic sense was developed in sunny beach or cottage gardens.
No matter how beautiful a shade garden such a person might create, this person might continue to feel a nagging sense that their garden is missing something or falls short in some way. But if it all works out, that garden fosters a sense of rootedness and contentment.
Yet another gardener might be a farmer at heart, happy if the garden yields farm-fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables for the kitchen. Fruiting trees and shrubs, strawberries, herbs and a large vegetable garden will happily satisfy, while a color-oriented person will see little to gush over. Conversely, the farmer-at-heart could be disappointed by a lot that lacks enough sun for true food gardening or might become frustrated by the amount of irrigation needed to grow food during summers on the Point.
Unlike the farmer, some gardeners are interior decorators at heart. For these, plants become accompaniments to, or partners of decorations. This person is happy scouring markets for garden decor, visiting yard sales in hope of the perfect old birdhouse or even creating their own objets d’art to place among carefully selected and placed flowers.
For them, the garden will not be complete until decor and plants strike the perfect balance. But once they do, a proud smile anoints the garden.
Another factor is the degree to which a person loves to putter and spend work time in the garden. Weed seeds blow into every garden; trees just keep on growing, but some plants require a heavy contribution of labor to look their best.
This is going to frustrate someone who would be happier with a low maintenance garden. Errant dandelions, rambunctious wisteria and demanding roses are going to drive this person crazy because they just want to relax in the garden, not work in it. They would be happy, however, with a few well-mulched beds and relatively well-behaved shrubs like hydrangeas.
I think that, generally, a gardener’s feelings about their garden are related to the gardener’s evaluation of how closely the garden matches their vision and needs. A person who wants to complement the architectural style of a clean-edged modern house might be proud of a garden with hard lines and open spaces, and annoyed when overgrown shrubs or trees lead the eye away from or overshadow the house.
A plant collector might be initially happy with a burgeoning collection but become unhappy if the garden becomes so cluttered with acquisitions that one cannot appreciate each and every treasure.
Ultimately, a garden is there to please. Is it the case then that to foster pride in and enjoyment of one’s garden, one needs to think about what one ultimately wants to get out of it?
If you haven’t already, why not take some time to evaluate what you want out of your garden? Then take a fresh look at your property and think what, if anything, you need to do to make your garden an even happier space for you.