Fifteen years ago, I would often bemoan the fact that I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted to doing the gardening, even though I had reasonable control over how I spent my day. I was my own boss and working from home but I would always prioritise client work or other commitments.
Now, here we are at the dawn of 2013, and I have reached the age and station at which women seem to devote themselves to their garden – and, do you know what? – I’m not sure I like gardening that much after all. I have a fairly good theoretical knowledge after years of RHS membership, reading the newspaper gardening sections, listening to Gardeners’ Question Time and watching Gardeners’ World. I’m good at Latin plant names because I have a Classics degree. I know ‘salicifolia’ means ‘with leaves like a willow’, and ‘glaucus’ means ‘grey’. I do like being out in the fresh air, and the smell of the earth, and the biggest thrill of course is to see the snowdrops and spring bulbs pushing through. I like visiting great gardens with their luscious herbaceous borders and atmospheric garden ‘rooms’. But …
… actually ‘doing the gardening’ seems to share the dull relentlessness of housework, made worse by the fact that things are growing all the time. I suspect my sort of gardening is being the lady of the manor who is able to share an intelligent conversation with a callus-handed head gardener, and otherwise just float about soaking up the joys of nature as tamed by years of experienced cultivation.
There is some job satisfaction to be gained from an hour’s weeding on my knees, and spreading the compost around makes the borders look cared for and has definitely improved our heavy clay over the years. But although I know what plants do, I lack the creative horticultural imagination to design a border and more significantly, my experience is that while the weeds are happy to romp away, it’s hard to get the plants you’ve carefully brought home from the nursery to flourish. I’ve also noticed that if I’m writing, no detail is too small to attend to, but in the garden or when I’m cleaning, the prime thought is ‘that’ll do’.
The wider conclusion is that people make time to do what they want to do. However busy you are, if you’re really committed to something, you’ll do it. Good intentions aren’t enough to make things happen. I have become sceptical over the years about the reasons people offer for, say, not coming to a workshop. If it’s actually meaningful to their lives at that point, they’ll be there no matter what other demands they are juggling.
Meanwhile the garden jobs still await, and the best approach I can think of, given the lack of a wise old head gardener, is just to pick a specific and manageable task and get on with it. Then when it’s done, stop for the day and not worry about the unending vista of other jobs I notice as I head back indoors for a celebratory cup of tea.