It certainly looks like an elephant’s leg. It may feel like an elephant’s leg, and in my mind this large beech tree could well be an elephant’s leg.

Following these random thoughts I decide to relax for a while and sit in the dry leaves with my back against the impressive trunk (no pun intended). I gaze up into the bare branches and, rather like Alice, disappear down a rabbit hole in my mind.

We visit many properties during our working year. On all we apply the same degree of skill and effort to create something that will meet the approval of our clients. However, some gardens are happier places to work in than others. As I ponder the elephant’s leg conundrum the idea that some gardens are less than happy places to work in begins to disturb me, so I decide to delve a little deeper.

In order to fathom the thought I order some of my gardens into ‘happy’ ‘just so’ and ‘this won’t do’ categories. The ‘happy’ gardens are ones where I often relate more closely with the client, but more importantly they are gardens where I can get in and scrimmage around. On warm dry days it is almost like going for a day out with close friends. I don’t talk to the plants like Prince Charles, but I do empathise with their situation. Being a touchy/feely sort of gardener I allow my instincts and powers of observation to notice when a plant looks distressed. My gardens dictate to me, and I listen. These places are proper gardens to me because I can experience the flow and get in sync with the garden holistically. They thrive and blossom, as long as they are fed a well balanced diet and adequate moisture. They are full of insects, birds and small invertebrates. These thoughts have the Bambi effect in my mind, Disneyesque butterflies and singing bluebirds…stop it.

The other category is more unsettling for my curious mind. It becomes clearer as I consider why. Invariably mankind seems determined to live on the edge of perpetual disaster. Many want to mould and manipulate things to suit their needs or to garner profit. Clearly we all need to survive to perpetuate the species, but at what cost?

Gardens in the ‘just so’ category are the ones where my clients want me to dominate the plants, to structure their gardens and make every blade of grass and flower look perfect, last longer and grow in the classic manner. In other words they want me to control the situation and force the plants to grow in violation of a natural law. Let’s face it, a privet tree is not long and rectangular, a willow leaf pear is not naturally a toffee apple shape. Indeed a willow leafed pear, allowed to grow to maturity, is a magnificent specimen with gorgeous silver leaves that drape down to the ground and produce lovely fruit, so why is it fashionable to trim it? Topiary is admirable in a strange way, but I avoid trimming as much as possible. Pruning for health seems far more appropriate to me.

Sometimes in these gardens we feel as if we never notice the beauty because we are too busy trying to create it.

The latter category ‘this won’t do’ is easier to understand. On occasion I have had disagreement with clients over what they expect from us. These people are the ultimate control freaks and expect the rest of the world to tug on fetlocks far too much. I have boundaries where I refuse to cross in the care of a garden. I also have boundaries with the way I want clients to treat my employees. The process is simple. ‘Thanks for giving us the opportunity to work on your garden, but we have far more important jobs to attend to. Sayonara.’ I never feel sad about losing one of these projects.

This brings me to a conclusion.

In the comfy rabbit hole of my mind I realise, of course, that natural is best. Nature will assert itself with just a little help from me, and hopefully have a very contented existence under my care.

The second option, also acceptable but definitely my second choice, is that ‘just so’ is actually a Zoo for plants. Plants in the ‘just so’ properties are put in confined spaces, are not allowed to mingle, are force fed diets of chemicals, are expected to hold tricky postures like a street artist in Barcelona. They are confined indoors for winter, starved or force fed to allow flowering at inappropriate times and have to endure haircuts once or twice a week, never to reproduce. Plants have their young taken from them (seeds) and distributed to other parts of the world, put up for adoption.

However, the true Zoo analogy relates to the attitude of the garden owner. In an animal zoo we wander around on paths, look at the creatures in cages or occasionally in safari type reconstructions. Yet we aren’t allowed to go and touch unless it is a petting zoo. We all love to see the exotic creatures, just as we love to see exotic flowers and plants. ‘just so’ owners want their gardens to be artificial so that they can gaze on contentedly and know that their regime has been imposed on the plants. They offer raised eyebrows when asked simple questions such as. ‘Do your plants enjoy being overcrowded?’ ‘Would your plants prefer to live in a sunny climate?’ ‘Do you overfeed your children so that they can win awards?’

Are these ‘just so’ garden plants happy? Is it appropriate to create garden Zoos for our own titillation?

My phone will be running hot now with clients who think that they may be one of the ‘just so’ gardens. Don’t worry folks, this was just a dream as I rested comfortably against the huge leg of an elephant, and gazed up into a large squirrel hole.