Professionals gardeners would like to tell you that they kill plants. They’d like to tell you that sometimes the gardens they create look crap and sometimes they don’t work. They’d like to tell you that our interventions in nature and green environments are an ongoing experiment because we don’t yet have comprehensive data on how all plant species will react in all environments.
At a recent garden Symposium I attended, many of the speakers highlighted their own failures; some kill plants in their gardens, one has a graveyard area in their nursery dedicated to dumping plants they’ve killed, some have charged clients a lot of money and the results weren’t successful…(I’m not giving away trade secrets here by the way, the seminar was recorded and will be put online for the public to view sometime over the next few months.) And some resent the garden media and other gardening institutions for presenting gardens as continually verdant and blooming, weed-free wonderlands. Dishonest portrayals of plants and gardens don’t do anybody any favours, not professionals nor public.
Through some terrible and irreversible act of fate, I caught Piers Morgan and Susannah Reid doing their ‘provocateur versus the voice of reason’ pantomime on TV the other morning. Piers was all blustery and acting outraged because a plus-size model was gracing the cover of a women’s magazine (I’m not naming the magazine because the whole affair smacked of being a contrived and well-planned media ‘storm’) and the magazine’s representative was arguing that such images are inspirational. Piers argued they are promoting bad, unhealthy habits and both viewpoints have some validity. As the magazine’s representative argued on the show, there is a place for all types of images even if they don’t align with what you feel to be beautiful. We have so much choice over our media these days if something isn’t to our taste we can just move on; close the website page, switch the channel (as I did with Piers & co.), and the same goes for gardens. If somebody covers a style of gardening that’s not for you, switch off, move on, seek coverage that’s relevant to you somewhere else. How we achieve diversity is by voting with our feet and not providing a few massive institutions with all our patronage.
Like the speakers at the symposium, I believe there is an unrealistic accepted view of what successful gardens should look like according to the media, etc. and I’m all up for challenging that view. But taking it a step further down the route of portraying the realities of gardens, I wondered do I really want to see images of dead plants and sorry looking borders? I don’t want to ignore that these things happen but is there a point to me seeing them? My initial thoughts were that I couldn’t possibly find such images inspiring but I realised there is hope to be gained by seeing mistakes and failures, especially if they’re the mistakes and failures of professionals. This hope can inspire you to be brave and try things out with your own plants knowing that failure is just a learning curve. I don’t want to see only dreary looking, badly managed gardens but a healthy dose of reality sprinkled into the mix of pretty pictures would be a very good thing in my opinion.
Going forward, I think we should try to adjust our expectations a little and accept that plants and gardens are unpredictable, nobody has all the answers and sometimes you can’t control nature however much you try. We can, however, control the media we consume and that’s exactly what I intend to do. Somebody pass me the remote, please.
For more info about Beth Chatto, her gardens and the Symposium visit www.bethchatto.co.uk