What Are Gardens For? plus shameless self promotion..

by AnneWareham on April 26, 2013

Post image for What Are Gardens For? plus shameless self promotion..

I’m sorry to begin another post with a disagreement with a much respected colleague, (see also) but here I go again. And it is also one of the joys of blogging that I can. Once we had to struggle to get a voice, now we can take one…

Nigel Colborn in The Garden copyright Anne Wareham, Veddw

Nigel’s piece

I was just reading the RHS ‘Garden’ – perhaps because I’m in it.

Anne Wareham in The Garden copyright Anne Wareham, Veddw

My piece (on the RIGHT)

And Rory Stuart’s interesting book What Are Gardens For?  is both discussed and reviewed by Nigel Colborn VMH.(congratulations, Nigel.xxx) Nigel says – .

“But experiencing and admiring other people’s gardens, like studying pictures in a gallery or attending a performance of Lohengrin, is a passive occupation….the only part of you doing any work is your brain”

He goes on to suggest that the kind of gardens referred to in Rory’s book (which includes Veddw, as a matter of self promotion)

April 2013 What Are Gardens For by Rory Stuart copyright Anne Wareham, Veddw.3

That squiggle is the author’s signature.Who’d have guessed?

have value ‘almost exclusively in their visual effect.’ Then, if I understand what he is saying, he suggests that the garden he enjoys is not one of those, but his own, where he finds ‘beauty and solace’ – brain activities perhaps? And privacy, gardening, wildlife, birdsong, butterflies. All of which, of course, may be found when visiting a garden, if you’re lucky. I think his point is that he energetically contributes to those outcomes in his own garden.

This is a curious concept of passive – that appreciating a work of art is passive. Brain work, sensations and emotions are hardly passive. But let that choice of word go. The suggestion is that gardening is superior to visiting gardens, which, maintaining the art analogy is like saying that that painting is better than studying a painting, and writing music superior to listening to it. Which seems daft, really – why the comparison??

I agree absolutely that they are different activities and that people who may prefer to avoid any contact with a spade or hoe may delight in visiting a great garden. Their delight may also be increased by reading Rory’s book and bringing a greater ability to appreciate what the garden offers as a result.

But both garden appreciation and gardening are active activities and comparing them at all seems a little pointless. And those plaudits for the virtues of gardening are becoming inescapable, like a prolonged and endlessly repeated advert on telly.


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What Are Gardens For by Rory Stuart copyright Anne Wareham, Veddw

The book under discussion

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Sara April 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm

But of course his point is not that you shouldn’t visit gardens, it’s that he wants to sell his book and so had to come up with some premise, however daft.

AnneWareham April 26, 2013 at 1:13 pm

It’s not his book, it’s one he is reviewing in the same edition of The Garden.

James Golden April 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm

This is not on point, but your post brings to mind the difficulty of even seeing a garden not one’s own. The sensual, emotional, aesthetic (add appropriate words) experience of a garden on a single visit is limited. Gardens exist and change over time, over seasons, from hour to hour, and few have the time of opportunity to visit other gardens multiple times, in multiple seasons. This thought comes to mind because I can appreciate my own garden in a very different way (I agree not passively) by experiencing it over time and through all its seasonal and contingent changes. I’ve been visiting the extraordinary Chanticleer, near by me, several times a year and can find similar experience there, through it’s more difficult to appreciate the more subtle qualities such as changing quality of light or angle of sunlight even at Chanticleer. So there is certainly something very different about being in one’s own garden simply because the experience of living in a garden is different. I’m not taking a position for or against Nigel’s or yours, just expressing an observation suggested by your post.

AnneWareham April 26, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Well, James – that would make an excellent piece for thinkingardens don’t you think? Developed a little… ?? XXXXXXX

James Golden May 8, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Would love to, but I seem not to keep all my commitments these days.

AnneWareham May 8, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Shame, but better than agreeing and not keeping commitment!

Pam Ruch April 29, 2013 at 11:35 pm

But, but …
Don’t you find that visiting a garden, any garden, brings out the critic in a gardener? I wish it were not so, but as much as I love seeing the work of other gardeners I can help thinking such uncharitable thoughts as “excellent deep-edging job, but I’m not impressed,” or “granted it looks great now but what about when all that tulip foliage turns yellow?” It is true that people who prefer to avoid contact with spade or hoe can appreciate the beauty of well-positioned plants. But allow us the point of view that we have earned with our hours of digging and weeding: the real gift is in the process and the active participation, not the product.

AnneWareham April 29, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I may possibly be the only gardener in the world who gardens because I want the resulting garden, not the gardening process. You have the support of all the garden media and the vast majority of gardeners. You can allow me my eccentricity?

Pam Ruch April 29, 2013 at 11:49 pm

The resulting garden, such an elusive joy. It resides mostly (or, should I say, most often … the weather in Pennsylvania weather is not as kind to gardens as that in the UK) in the mind.

AnneWareham April 30, 2013 at 8:26 am

That’s hard!

J Sherry April 30, 2013 at 3:36 pm

“But experiencing and admiring other people’s gardens, like studying pictures in a gallery or attending a performance of Lohengrin, is a passive occupation….the only part of you doing any work is your brain”

I (& the majority of other people) cannot compose/play/sing music, cannot draw/paint, cannot write poetry/stories, but does that mean I cannot & shouldn’t listen to music, visit art galleries, read poetry/stories, because I won’t really understand because I do not know what the composer/musicians/singers/painters/writers have had to do to produce that work, because I don’t know what it feels like to search for the right note or line? Or that my experience will be less than the experience of a musician/painter/writer listening to/looking at/reading the same piece? It will be different, but why less?

Further, the sentence “the only part of you doing any work is your brain” implies that for any activity to be meaningful it must include physical activity; what a weird notion.

I don’t think this approach is helpful to gardening or gardens; when all forms of “the arts” are trying to make themselves accessible to the public at large, trying to use language which is more readily understood by “the man in the street”, why do (some) gardeners appear to be going in the opposite direction – ie trying to make gardening and garden-visiting sound more complex than it is and; even implying that it is not really for you unless you are actively involved and have some knowledge of the work involved? I have noticed a tendency to become pretentious about gardening, as if this will make it somehow more of an art-form, but simplification is the key to getting gardening and gardens more into the public domain (making it more “inclusive”, to use the current buzz word).

AnneWareham April 30, 2013 at 3:48 pm


Tristan Gregory May 1, 2013 at 6:03 pm

The pretentions of gardeners are a defensive response that we adopt to cope with the:

Oh you’re a gardener? Were you not clever enoungh to work in an office then?

That we suspect lurks in the minds of those we interact with. It is probably why some of us take criticism so poorly for alongside it we see:

Good God you can’t even manage something as simple as that!

The balance to our self image lies between simplification and professionalism in the realm of craft.

Helen May 8, 2013 at 11:43 am

My approach to visiting gardens has changed as I have developed and learnt. I see more and consider more. I look at how plants work together, how the structure of the garden works and how I can relate this to my garden – it isnt a passive thing. To be honest I suspect my gardening at home is more passive as I tend to drift off into another world as I go through fairly routine tasks – unless of course I am planning a big change.

It does sound all back to front to me but its what I have come to expect from the media and why I have to some extent disengaged from it.

AnneWareham May 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Back to front is a great way to put it!