Earlier this year we asked gardeners using our website to tell us what their favourite and worst garden jobs were. Most found it easy to name planting or weeding but a few people simply wrote that they loved it all. I envy people who find such pleasure in an activity! Of course what motivates people to garden is usually a very personal thing and varies from a love of the outdoors to a desire for gourmet-style fresh kitchen ingredients. But I have always thought that there must be some common thread with those who ‘get it right’ and just love the whole experience.
It’s easy to identify the things that don’t deliver a good growing experience. In my opinion there are a few types of gardening that claim to offer it all but actually fail to deliver that sense of satisfaction we strive for:
The Project Gardener: Many TV shows seem to focus on a goal-oriented mentality when showing gardens. It’s also commonly encouraged by magazines and books all promising ways to transform your garden: ‘Build a decking area in a weekend’ or ‘Create a herb-spiral in a day.’ Most hardware stores have large garden areas which are dependent, to a large extent, on the perpetuation of this myth that to be a real gardener you should have a series of successful projects, each providing the satisfaction of a ‘job well done’ before moving on to the next.
Why it doesn’t work: The problem with this approach is that the enjoyment is often postponed to the completion of another big garden ‘upgrade’ leaving little time to appreciate the results. The garden can all too easily feel like just another list of jobs to complete…
The Quick-Fix Gardener: Others want instant pleasure from their gardens – quick fixes are the order of the day to make the garden beautiful and productive with very little work. Gardening stores are happy to oblige with plenty of ready-made solutions: 100 transplants to transform a border, ready-planted hanging baskets and mature plants in huge pots. This approach brings instant gratification - gardens can be transformed adding colour and variety in just an hour or so - and it suits our consumer lifestyles. With the growing interest in edible gardening, even basic vegetables of all descriptions are available in these instant-fix packs.
Why it doesn’t work: The problem with this approach is that by removing the challenges we find that gardening, like any other area of life, becomes less meaningful and ultimately less satisfying. Quick fixes don’t give the sense of achievement that we crave and we quickly grow tired of them, going from one gardening fad to another (and spending quite a bit of money in the process!)
The Ambitious Gardener: This is the gardener who has ideals of taking on a huge area to cultivate but can easily become overwhelmed by the extent of the work or problems in their garden. They often end up (after a year or so) resigned to just keeping it looking ‘respectable.’ People who have many other responsibilities or who struggle to find time for gardening often fall into this trap at one time or other, in the end gardening while feeling bad about it or becoming caught in the gap between what they wanted to achieve and what they can just about manage.
Why it doesn’t work: It’s not much fun running to stand still and even then making no lasting progress.
So what is the ideal way to enjoy gardening? As with many areas of life I think it’s all down to balance:
The Balanced Gardener knows that it’s better to tend a small plot well than to take on a garden that’s too big or too demanding for the time available at their stage of life. They have goals and aims in mind but enjoy gently working towards those goals, not postponing the pleasure until the goal is reached. In short, a balanced gardener will:
- Choose projects for their garden not just for the end result but because they will enjoy the work involved in getting there.
- Take time out to enjoy the garden as it is.
- Balance this with some hard work to gain a sense of achievement.
Personally, I tend to focus too much on being a ‘Project Gardener’ and forget to take the time out. At other times I have been an Overwhelmed Gardener but have recently cut back the area I am cultivating precisely to help boost the enjoyment. And it seems to be working so far – a balanced approach is making me a happier gardener and my vegetable plot is returning as a source of pleasure. I’m not there yet – and certainly can’t say that I enjoy everything (weeding will probably never be a pleasure for me) – but the balance is definitely positive!