Bernhard FeistelMarital companion planting

Political gardening systems and marital companion planting – from all political systems, monarchy also seems to be best in the garden, provided we are kings or queens ourselves. There is enough oppositional mischief and revolutionary danger from the animal world already, let alone climatic caprices, to allow for democratic antics with liberal or conservative experiments in turn. (Labour is involved in any case.) So I plead for a hereditary iron hand with green fingers and a soft touch.

Conflicting styles or opinions could have devastating effects, particularly if the territory is rather small like, say, in a family garden, where the husband’s formality clashes with the wife’s longing for cottage garden freedom if not anarchy, or vice versa. Therefore I feel the best gardens or parks are those where one idiosyncrasy or its spirit was/is allowed to reign supreme without parliamentary debates, compromises to the dictatorship of the so-called public taste or nasty media interference, which would constantly like to set this taste and drive the market from one fancy to the other. (The restrictions from the purse’s content, small or large, is terrible enough already.) Gardens connected with personalities like Pückler (again) Christopher Lloyd, Derek Jarman or Ian Hamilton Finlay spring to my mind here.

But in real daily life, we have emancipation, democratization, marriages and thus family gardens. And I won’t even mention those where you find huge over dimensional crazy coloured caged-in-trampolines and slides for the darlings who are, however, conspicuously absent from them, presumably busying themselves on the computer counting their friends on Facebook.

Sometimes I wonder how psychologically difficult it must be for an architect or landscaper to convince a family what might suit them best as a house or garden, if it is not the architect’s show case. I suppose the strategy would reach the ideal stage when the planning (and paying) couple could be convinced that many suggestions and ideas were actually theirs’. Yet, in real middle class British life houses and children are rather seen as an investment and the available mortgage decides about both their shapes.

Therefore many couples can’t afford or don’t want to employ landscape architects or even gardeners, which I can fully understand because who in their senses would delegate this most pleasant work to others. The ideal situation, again, would be if one part is a committed gardener and the other happy to help, tolerate or keep quiet. Or in other words, when the husband disappears to the golf course or into the garage only to come out to cut the grass, prune hedges or perhaps dictate in the barbecue corner. (I always wonder why particularly those men who have no idea about proper cooking at all make such a fuss when they put a steak or sausage to the grill, and answer myself because this is supposed to be a fun, adventure and holiday situation in comparison to the daily routine. Plus the pleasure of making noise and smoke, perhaps.)

My border – a lazy wilderness, appropriately with former privy, now shed, in the background

Yet, here I am, coming to the point at last and my major complaint for today, which is not about the weather, though I am writing in the middle of summer after the daily temperatures have struggled to reach 8° Celsius and wonder whether I should reach for a mulled wine while looking at glossy photographs of fresh strawberries. (Did I compose flower beds for those illusive 5 minutes in summer?) This is vis major, but I am in the “miserable” situation that my wife’s husband loves gardening, too. But he cannot just plant things but needs to discuss, justify and rearrange, and discuss again. Or when it comes to pruning, one of us either chops away too much or not enough, and it is not at all conclusive that one is the harsh and the other the laissez-faire pruner, which, unfortunately, seems circumstantial, too. A compromise appears to be sometimes the worst improvement and so we have come to the conclusion that each of us needs their own area, and far enough away from the other’s not to clash colour-wise, texture-wise and philosophical-wise. (Imagine, just for the sake of it, what plant choice you had, if there were a pink monster like the aforementioned trampoline close by. Giant sunflowers, giant pumpkins together with nasturtium, perhaps…)

In any case, we both want to be king or queen in our own flowerbeds and not, like the British, either queen and prince consort or king and princess consort, holding each others’ handbags.

If you cut delphiniums after flowering, there can be a 2nd flush

As a last resort, however, we have reserved a kind of Veto which enables each of us to prevent a feature, plant or decision one (party) is not at all prepared to tolerate. Additionally, we are working together on an area which links our two kingdoms; to have an acceptable common border between our outstanding personal borders, so to speak. This, however, is the most half-hearted part of our whole gardening venture, since no-one eventually feels responsible. Sometimes it even seems, as if the passing rabbits, nibbling mice or pawing pheasants particularly like to do mischief in our shared border, thus spoiling this inconclusive picture or, perhaps, taking sides. Imagine, after we planted tomatoes and lettuces together in this joint bed a couple of weeks ago the tomatoes in “my” half have grown better for some reason or another whereas the rabbits chopped “her” lettuces much more than the ones’ I had planted. Immediately I was being accused of secret and partial watering (a nonsense in these conditions!) or putting some secret smelling stuff around “my” lettuce plants. Perhaps we should dedicate this strip as a showpiece for marital gardening co-operation, and call it companion planting cum planting companions.

My wife’s border – wilderness leading directly into the woods

If the weather is fine we would find ourselves often enough in the garden (wine glass in hand) pointing out to the other’s weaknesses in their respective flowerbed but would also do that in bad weather, with jumpers on and coffee mug in hand (My wife prefers tea!). Hers is in my opinion often too fussy with too many and different varieties, which is mainly due to my maliciously presenting her with gifts (gift in German means poison) of plants I raised myself or acquired but couldn’t find a location for in “my” border, which is, is in my wife’s opinion, far too lazy and uninteresting. I know, however, my limits and cannot push this presenting of plants too far. And there is one certain plant which would secure me a divorce, she threatened or promised…

My wife’s border & the lupins which were of a creamy white not so long ago. Many flowers seem to fall back into their old ‘habits’. Not bad in this case.

To sum up, we can’t actually wait to return to and extend our German gardens which we started many years ago, even marrying in the process. There, and in other projects, we can now implement our English gardening experience where we are just playing and experimenting. Germany, after all, is where the British Royal family comes from.

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Bernhard Feistel

About Bernhard Feistel

Gardener and academic in rural England and sometimes also in his native Saxony, Germany; special interest in herb, maze and wildflower meadow designing and gardening. Norfolk, UK

3 thoughts on “Marital companion planting

  1. helen mckerral on said:

    Very entertaining, Bernhard! Fortunately, my partner is happy to eat the produce and enjoy the view, not influence either except as the heavy labour!

    • Bernhard Feistel on said:

      Thank goodness since I feared you handled all these stones yourself…

      To be honest, I actually rather enjoy the co-operation with Ulrike in the garden, too. It is such a pleasure weeding side by side (if there is enough time for this luxury) and perhaps our Veto arrangement prevents some over-the-top-antics from each of us; although I am more the culprit here…

  2. James Beattie on said:

    Great one, Bernard! Firstly, I’ll just say, 8 degrees in summer? Ouch! What struck me the most in this blog was the talking and justifying everything one does in the garden. Both my partner and I spend too much time talking about what we’re going to do in the garden as opposed to actually doing it, and even then it’s me who does the ‘doing’. If we did more ‘doing’ as opposed to pondering, debating and justifying we’d have a much more developed plot than we currently do.