We all have our pet hates, and recently Catherine Stewart wrote eloquently about the current craze for edible gardens. I laughed out loud at it, and at some of the replies. A $25 cucumber? Meh –a bargain! I daren’t do sums on my efforts! The irrigation system alone accounts for at least two year’s supply of vegies (think not spuds, but black truffles!) even before adding fertiliser and water!
Catherine mentions gardening and cooking shows, and how they’ve influenced attitudes to both pastimes. Some years ago, the owner of a cooking school in Adelaide wrote she stopped running holiday classes for children because Junior Master Chef had brought all the pushy parents out of their woodwork-panelled kitchens, and she was teaching kids who didn’t want to be there and for whom cooking was just another vicarious achievement for their over-ambitious mums and dads. You can bet that even if those kids had enjoyed cooking before, they wouldn’t do so after the burden of performance was added to the cake mix.
Conversely, in my opinion, one positive development for children is the establishment of kitchen gardens in schools – not so much to promote gardening, but to promote healthier eating: the same kids who avoid greens on their plates will strip every sugarsnap from the vine before the pods can even ripen!
I’ve also written about what I consider to be the scourge of “Garden Makeover” shows, and the way they turn gardening into an end, rather than a journey. Makeovers are completely unachievable for any gardener without a team to, well, do the makeover! And ironically, for any real gardener, the worst possible outcome is for your garden to actually be “finished”!
Another pet hate is designer gardens comprising acres of hard landscaping. Where are the plants? A border of mondo grass under a line of ornamental pears may be a designer’s joy, but it’s a gardener’s nightmare.
Equally annoying is being told my garden must follow this or that design principle, where every texture and colour MUST contrast or complement the other, or my garden will be an unmitigated failure. You’re certainly doomed if you’re one of those people who buys random things that catch your eye in nurseries! Of course, a large part of the reason the emphasis on the principles of design annoys me, is that I’m not very good at them!
Fortunately, we can and should ignore the critics and crazes when they don’t match our tastes and we’re in our own back yards. Why feel guilty about it? As Catherine suggests, as long as people are planting and growing things – any things! – that’s terrific! So for me – and unlike Catherine – a garden that is purely for looking at is as unappealing for my own backyard as is a garden that is purely for eating. But who cares: your backyard isn’t mine, so do what you like in it!
Where would we be without collectors, whose gardens are filled with every variety of bromeliad, or fern, or obscure species of Amazonian rainforest liana? Not my cup of tea, but the magic of the internet means that, whatever your passion, you can find others to share it!
Where would we be without the gardens of famous designers, who use plants and landscape like an artist uses paint on canvas? As I said, those design talents are stratospherically beyond me, but I can appreciate them elsewhere.
I’m reasonably good at growing vegetables, and Catherine says she isn’t. But who promulgated the idea that growing vegies was that much easier than any other kind of gardening? Just like any other kind of gardening that people become good at, it requires certain skills, and knowledge, and a good dollop of microclimate luck.
For my back yard, I wanted a garden that was both productive AND beautiful; the idea that gardens are productive OR beautiful is arbitrary but strangely pervasive, and skews perception. Louis Glowinski writes in his excellent The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia,
“For me, enormous pleasure is derived from fruit-bearing trees, with even the sight of a laden tree giving me the same aesthetic thrill that others derive from paintings in galleries or nature’s landscapes.”
Or from a flower garden? Glowinski’s inspiring book promotes the edible ornamental garden, focusing on fruit trees… but why stop there? Why not include vegies as well?
Compare the bold foliage effects of zucchini or rhubarb as landscaping plants, compared to, say, Gunnera. The beautiful foliage colours and textures of ruby chard, red lettuce, bronze fennel, purple sage, black cavolo nero and red Russian kale are equal to that of numerous purely ornamental plants. The flowers and fruit of citrus, or peach and apple blossom – glorious! When my radicchio came into bloom, I had no idea the flowers would be so stunning!
Vegie gardens need not be rigid rows sown only for production, but can (gasp!) be planted so foliage textures and colours complement or contrast! Paths can be inviting and beds curving, not lined up like boxes of food on supermarket shelves. You can even mix in natives, or purely ornamental species, such as Gaura, daisies, roses, salvias, lavenders, and Alstroemeria as in a potager, so there’s always something flowering!
As replies to Catherine’s post suggest, yes there’s justification in growing your own food for sustainability (if not financial!) reasons, although even this message gets annoying if we’re bludgeoned on the head with it – Gardening Australia Live – why did it fail and Garden Religion).
However, for me and, I imagine, many others, productive gardening springs from complex motivations arising from childhood memories and from family relationships. It’s immensely satisfying to go into the patch to pick the evening meal, and I reckon my baskets of produce and (very first) garden stir fry of onion, garlic, sugarsnap peas, broccolini and zucchini are as beautiful as any vase of freshly-picked flowers!