Can you empathise with your garden?

As a parent of 4 grown humans I still thoroughly enjoy observing my children as they continue to evolve. The eldest, Rachel, is in her late 20’s and ever so gradually is assuming elements of responsibility associated with being the senior sibling. Everyone expects her to be wiser and understanding in all things family, this allows them to continue as members who enjoy the privileges without much responsibility for their actions within the group.

Who knows what mysteries lie in the eyes of a child?

I see my present role, professional gardener, in a similar way. Possibly, because I am physically older and supposedly wiser than Rachel, my role is more garden carer, a Foster Gardener.

Many new gardens that arrive into my care were established without much planning, have been allowed to become delinquent or ignored for many years and need intense nurturing to flourish. Recently some new properties appeared under my wing, I say appeared because I have no clue why the owners contacted me, nor does it matter to me. Suddenly I became responsible for numerous living things, and expected to care for them immediately. As I began to deal with these gardens I saw, for the first time, my role comparable to a foster parent.

On first inspection it excites me to see what is in a new garden. My experience quickly dictates what needs to be done to improve things. It seems too easy to say to the owner, ‘Rip it all up and start again.’ Implying that I have a magical formula, something that can only be nourished by the depth of their pockets. At first I prefer to work instinctively and see the value in what exists, to take the most obvious element (often near the front door) and get down on my hands and knees to see if the structure can be nurtured. It doesn’t take long for the owner to tune into my enthusiasm for their garden.

Structured gardening plans have long since been obliterated from my modus operandi, my instincts tell me when to feed a plant, my experience allows me to understand if a plant is healthy. Pruning to me is rather like cutting the fingernails of a child. The child is unlikely to bother about the length of a fingernail, only noticing if one is broken and becomes a nuisance, so responsible parents notice when the nail needs cutting to avoid potential problems. Plants can’t prune themselves to fit into our ethos of gardening (we attempt to control plants in an un-natural way). All gardens would naturally and quite quickly establish an order whereby unsuitable plants for position would cease to flourish. We act as plant zookeepers for our own edification and pruning allows these captive plants to at least enjoy their life in our care.

A happy garden reminds me of the sensations as you hold a cat and stroke it. The cat vibrates with unfettered delight and so does a garden when you look after it properly.

I now see all of my contract gardens as individuals who have to be cared for, encouraged to grow happily, but within the regime set down by the owner, a mutual regime that I implement and translate with lots of love and care. As an owner becomes familiar with my style they give me more freedom to choose what is best for the garden. When I first began contracting in Australia I needed the owners to guide me, they had to provide me with the ideas and I took their concepts and carried them out. Nowadays I seldom see the owners, they simply enjoy the fruits of my labour, I have become part of their garden and that suits me perfectly. Whenever I am among the plants I feel at home in their home.

It is rewarding to cherish a garden, every plant responds positively, just as humans respond to kindness and understanding. I am content to be a Foster Gardener, when I am in the garden, I am part of the garden, when I leave the garden it flourishes because I was there.