I prefer to use the word “development” rather than “maintenance” when describing how we care for gardens. Gardening is a creative process, not just a cleaning service, so I think that the “M” word devalues the art and craft involved. “Maintenance” implies a state of preservation and perpetuation, whereas “development” gives a sense of progress, blossoming and evolution.

I am especially passionate about creating naturalistic-style planting for people who would like their gardens to evolve and be wildlife-friendly, rather than just be kept neat and tidy. I suppose hedges and lawns can be “maintained”, but gardens as a whole ideally develop, rather than just being kept in a sterile state. Like living, ever-changing paintings, they give the chance to keep adding layers over time, which need to be nurtured, edited and restored continually.

In a speech during 2011 David Cameron grouped gardening into an unskilled activity along with litter-picking, which enraged the gardening community. We need to encourage young people into the horticultural industry, so let’s rebrand the skills required. Comparing gardeners to creatives such as painters, potters and furniture designers would be a good start. Just like hairdressers, tailors and theatre directors,  gardeners can transform their client’s gardens, once they have their trust.

I feel so lucky to have fallen into the profession whilst working as an aupair during my gap year in 1996. I had never imagined I could make a career out of gardening, however, often when I say I am a gardener, people ask for clarification; do you mean a landscape gardener or garden designer –  as though being a gardener isn’t enough.

Artists and craftsmen get dirty whilst creating and yet those who toil and cultivate the soil are viewed differently. Manual work doesn’t have to be menial, although of course some jobs can be boring, but I prefer to say meditative. I often have my best ideas whilst working in gardens, rather than at my drawing board or computer screen. Apparently your mind needs to be quiet for moments of inspiration to happen, thus the outdoor nature and physical act of gardening feeds my creativity.

Of course gardening has been proven to be therapeutic – another reason to get more young people enthused.

To grab their attention and to change the perception that gardening is an old person’s pursuit, we need to create wilder more atmospheric gardens and we need to value and celebrate the people who look after them. Repetition and the high density of flowers or shapes is what makes meadows and other seemingly wild landscapes so visually appealing. These multi-layered plantings provide more for wildlife, as well as interest for humans, but some people find them messy or threatening. By adding formal elements, such as a path cut through a meadow, or repetition of clipped shapes, can help to make wilder areas of planting look intentional and less scary. This naturalistic style of planting may look lazy, however editing, managing and weeding selectively, to encourage desirable self-seeders and extra layers, requires knowledge and skill, which is why you mostly see boring block-planting in public spaces.

When I am asked for a “low-maintenance” garden, clients are asking for something that won’t require much time or money to look after. They are not asking for something sterile, but plastic plants are the only ones that don’t require any nurturing! So maybe the obsession with low-cost, tidy, “order”, has helped to keep the “M” word in use, but let’s start erasing it from our gardening vocabulary.

 

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