Beginning 2021 on a philosophical note – Voltaire said that it is necessary to cultivate your garden. Andrew Marvell said that green thoughts come from any green shade. More recently, Marc Hamer in his latest book ‘Seed to Dust’ uses his cultivation of someone else’s garden as a catalyst for a range of philosophical meditations. His chapters begin with a gardening task but lead onto thoughts about life itself and his part in it.
I was reminded of ‘Plot 29’, Allan Jenkins’ book about the healing power of gardening, in which he gives an often heartbreaking portrayal of the violence and neglect of children, growing into an adult who seeks solace in tending a London allotment.
In their book ‘The Meaning of Gardens’ , Mark Francis and Randolph Hester argue that gardens have meanings and go on to explore six categories of meaning: faith, power, ordering, cultural expression, personal expression and healing, each of which can operate at a social or an individual level. Jane Brown’s wonderful book ‘The Pursuit of Paradise’ aptly sums up the meaning of gardens for many of us: the desire to create something which may be not only useful, but a pleasure to be in.
It has become a bit of a truism to say that gardens and open green spaces have become a lifeline to many during 2020. A survey examining life under lockdown as measured by Natural England’s People and Nature Survey, conducted in May 2020 found the following:
Our own project to renovate the Old Pond Garden at Charlton House has shown that many volunteers have appreciated the opportunity to get out into the open air and to be with other people. It has become the perfect community project.
Sue Stuart-Smith’s (many gardeners may be more familiar with her husband Tom Stuart-Smith, the garden designer and Chelsea gold winner) ‘The Well Gardened Mind’ was published earlier this year. Sue Stuart-Smith is a prominent psychiatrist and psychotherapist and her book examines neuroscience and psychoanalysis in the context of gardening and makes a strong claim for the benefits of gardening for mental well-being. Monty Don has long argued for the role of the garden in relieving depression and several episodes of Gardener’s World have featured individuals whose lives have been supported by the activity of gardening.
Gardens do not stand still; they are dynamic and ever-changing environments. Gardeners are always planning and looking forward. At the moment many of us, if we haven’t already done so, are ordering our bulbs for next spring. I am thinking about colour combinations (again) and I have a plan to move around my dahlias and make room for new varieties. On another recent visit to Great Dixter there was a stunning variety which, on enquiry, turned out to be Dovegrove. If I can find a supplier, I would like to include this in my borders next year.
Monty Don has always been a keen exponent of the health benefits of gardening, in particular its effect on the not so quiet mind. I have recently read that some hospitals have introduced ‘secret gardens’ where patients recovering from the Coronovirus are taken for periods every day, even in drizzling rain, for the beneficial effects. And, of course, this week it is Gardens and Health Week, sponsored by the NGS with Rachel de Thame as its Ambassador. The NGS website has various links to the personal stories of people for whom gardens have played a vital role in their recovery.
Also recently published is Sue Stuart-Smith’s (wife of the garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith) book, ‘The Well Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World’, in which she points out the pleasures of growing and nurturing things and argues for a ‘greening’ of all of our lives.
Despite exhortations to sit and enjoy our gardens, I think keen gardeners often don’t do that! But this spring there has been one thing that has brought me joy every time I look at it! In the autumn I bought a collection of ‘ tulips for a window box’. When it came to planting them, I decided the window box was too small, so I jammed them all into a pot. The three varieties are absolute beauties and even now they are fading are still immensely lovely.
I rarely sit outside, but I am greeted by them every morning when I have breakfast.
At the end of my garden I have a Clematis ‘Freckles’ which flowered constantly through the winter. However, I only saw this when I ventured further down the garden. I have resolved to plant something which gives me such pleasure closer to the house where I can see it even in inclement weather. In these unusual and difficult times, let us take pleasure where we can.
The tulips are Double Early and Double Lates: Anthracite, Copper Image and Dream Touch.