Alison AplinAre gardeners a competitive lot?

Through many years of hands-on gardening and observing others in the pursuit of gardening perfection, I have come to the conclusion that many of us are a rather competitive lot. In a nice way, of course!

Unfortunately, the bulk of gardeners, from my observation, plop plants in with a no-care attitude – if they live, so be it. Many see a plant in the nursery that they like, with no thought about its growing conditions and whether it is suited to their site at all, how it will work with other plants, even the eventual size is rarely considered. They like it, so buy it. Often the plant is left in its pot for weeks before it is eventually planted out – and lives if it is lucky.

Many plants don't make it from the nursery to the garden

Many plants don’t make it from the nursery to the garden

In our previous abode we had a retail nursery attached to our tourism attraction garden. This property was in the Clare Valley in South Australia – a very difficult area to garden even with a good season. High heat, severe winter frosts and low humidity – not conducive to good gardening at all. But it was a wonderful challenge.

This retail nursery experience gave me an enormous insight into how people purchase plants. Most of our customers thought that they knew it all – that gardening is really easy and anyone can do it. Fortunately there were those who had the good instinct when in doubt, to ask for advice, and to heed the advice given to them. These were the people who ended up with good gardens – they found a nursery where they respected the advice given to them and then acted on this advice.

In order to be a good gardener, the beginner has to start somewhere. And this is usually passed on from someone with gardening experience – the more the better. Books can give advice, but conditions vary so much even in a single garden, that the advice from these books is often quite generic.

Commited gardeners learn botanical names

Commited gardeners learn botanical names

Once a person starts to garden, if they are at all competitive, I feel that this is the start of a lifelong quest for gardening perfection. This is especially important to people who are of thinking mind, who want to know Latin names of plants so that they can research plants’ origins, who need to know more about different soils and what plants grow in these soils and so on.

Gardening in the true sense is for intelligent people. Who want to take their love of creating to a different level. And this is where the competitive approach becomes apparent. The more competitive, the better will be the garden, especially if the gardener is able to research and learn through experience.

Of course there are the people who are keen on monoculture i.e. rose or dahlia growing. These people become almost obsessive with their desire to have the best and biggest blooms of the show. Don’t tell me these people aren’t competitive! But good on them. because they have an interest and pursue it to the highest extent.

Showing chrysanthemums

It is remarkable that the people who are so enthralled with roses or dahlias as examples are virtually all men. This in itself makes a statement about competitiveness, but why? The number of shows that display these miraculous blooms receive many entries each year with a loyal following who attend the shows to see who has won this year. But why are the bulk of entries mainly from men?

Bottom garden showing Melaleuca hypericifolia 'Uludullah Beacon', Eremopphila glabra, a blue plectranthus  and Callistemon 'Mary McKillop'

As a garden designer I want to be the best in my regional area, using my years of experience and ethic of sustainable practice to ensure gardens that thrive way beyond those of my competitors. In this field I am very competitive.

Bottom garden with nativesBut as a person, I easily walk away from other arenas of competition. Sport? Absolutely hopeless! Academia? Not much better! But I have a passion and the competitive spirit for me to want to own the best garden that my money and ability can manage.

Of course, once I have achieved that level of desire with my garden, then I must open it to the public. Some of quieter disposition are quite able to sit back and enjoy their gardens within their own circle. Me – I want others to see my creation and hopefully to admire it. I also want to show what can be done with limited outlay.

We all have differing levels of ability and creativity. The more we garden and learn as we go, the better will be our gardens. I have made a point of buying promising properties where I know that I can learn from the site. I have experienced Hills gardening with sandstone soil and a good rainfall, inland gardening with high phosphorus slab limestone, severe frosts and limited rainfall, foot hills gardening with subsoil clay as topsoil and now our coastal garden with its own inherent problems.

Bottom garden with pebble pathGardening is a wonderful challenge. To visit a good nursery and see a plant that you have been looking for for years is a real joy. Knowing botanical names which enables research just makes gardening so much more interesting. And the more that you get involved, the more it becomes apparent that good gardening is not easy – in fact it is really difficult, but this is the challenge – to aim to get it right!

Bottom garden - walking under a plant canopyMy own garden is not a showpiece garden. It is a garden that follows the seasons, considers the environment throughout, and is a haven for a never ending display of birdlife, frogs, lizards and even the occasional snake. It is not lots of money that has made my garden, but experience, passion and a love of nature. The fact that it has been accepted for Open Gardens Australia, which has a high standard for garden entries, should tell the gardening community that it is not about money – it is about passion.

As time progresses, and natural disasters become all too frequent, gardening will become even more of a challenge. But isn’t this what life is all about anyway? At least gardening when things are going right, provides so much joy for so many. And as it gets harder, the challenge gets greater which makes the whole experience so much more rewarding.

Happy gardening!

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Alison Aplin

About Alison Aplin

Alison is a passionate, multi award winning sustainable landscape designer, Horticulturist and arborist. She has been the owner and designer of 2 Ecotourism gardens that have both won significant awards. Her writing is based on knowledge, empirical learning which is essential to sustainable ethic, and a questioning mind leading to much research. Her articles are often controversial - with a disclaimer that she is responsible for the written matter, and not Garden Drum. A deeply caring person about the natural environment, Alison's writing endeavours to explain why sustainable landscapes are so important. Without people like her, they will be lost and gardens will become merely concrete

2 thoughts on “Are gardeners a competitive lot?

  1. Interesting post, Alison. But which do you think comes first – the competitive spirit, or the desire to garden? IMO a sense of competition (with others) is not integral to high achievement, though they often occur simultaneously, and competition certainly drives achievement for many people.

    Is it simply the desire to create something beautiful – for ourselves, for others, or just for the sake of the creative process itself? The desire to provide, to put food on the table for the people we love? Or maybe all of these simultaneously?

  2. Hello Helen
    I have met many gardeners over my years, as I know that you have. For those of us who really strive to have a garden that is noteworthy and also different, we need to have that competitive edge to keep the drive going.
    Gardening is getting harder and harder in many parts of Australia – the climate changes are really taking their toll on the spirit of people wanting to achieve a high standard with their gardens. I see too many give up – it is just too daunting a task. So to me it is those who have that extra oomph that keeps them going and not giving up – the competitive edge.
    The vegie garden to me is a completely separate garden to what I regard as a garden retreat. A good vegie garden is more about permaculture than the style that I aspire to. I find that vegetable gardening is even more demanding of time and knowledge than what most people would call a garden, when you struggle get it right.
    Gardening is getting to be a really difficult pleasure, but the rewards are high if you keep the effort [and competitive edge] alive.

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