Should we become less controlling as gardeners?

Flo Headlam asks whether we need to be less controlling in our gardens

I’ve spent the past few months looking at my garden and examining each area to see how well it works: it’s an annual obsession. I’ve been pondering the marginal spaces – you know, the edge of the lawn where it meets the border, the grass where it meets the paving, that tricky bit at the front of the border that never seems quite full enough. Those spaces have been occupying my mind and I’m questioning whether I should be obsessing about them so much. I’ve concluded that I need to relax and let the garden go its own way.

Chair in garden
Sometimes we need to relax and let ourselves, and our gardens, just be

While we all love mature gardens: borders packed with well-established plants, every space accounted for, there’s a lot to be said for breathing space. And I mean that literally and metaphorically. As gardeners we can be restless, relentlessly looking for the next best thing, comparing our garden to other gardens. We all have our own level of fixation with it, fed to varying degrees by over-shopping, over-planting, or just out and out overindulgence. And because I recognise a lot of myself in that statement, I’m endeavouring to behave differently this year.

I’m taking a chill pill, becoming more relaxed about my garden. It’s about taking time to appreciate what’s there and resist the urge to keep adding for the sake of adding.

Mature garden
As gardeners we strive to attain a full ‘finished’ garden, and don’t stop to enjoy what we have

What’s come over me? I’m taking a chill pill, becoming more relaxed about my garden. It’s about taking time to appreciate what’s there and resist the urge to keep adding for the sake of adding. It happens so easily, that nervous twitch-like reflex that creeps up on you, the desire to reach perfection with your planting, forgetting that nature is indeed beautiful but not always perfect. We strive for control over our plants, sometimes losing patience with underperformers, but it’s time to relax.

Garden centre
Easter marks the ‘start’ of the gardening season as we all get to work in our gardens. Getty images

We all contribute to the million-pound economy that is the ornamental and edible horticultural sector. And this year, Easter is early, meaning that the nationally agreed ‘starter gun’ that signals the beginning of the gardening season will soon be fired. Soon garden centres, open gardens and the eagerly anticipated annual garden shows will have us all excited like sugar-rushed teens at the fair. There has been a recent uplift in people growing their own fruit and veg, accelerated since the pandemic, which suggests that cultivation, on however small a scale, is not a mere lifestyle choice but stems from a need to connect with our more primal selves and a simpler coexistence with nature.

Deckchair
Sit back in your garden and soak it all in. Getty images

That’s the spirit I’m trying to channel by sitting on my hands and watching the flowers. An uncomplicated, undemanding relationship with my garden is my goal. How often do we gardeners do that: just sit and take it all in? It’s one of my resolutions for my garden this year: to spend more time sitting in it – morning coffee, weekend brunches, barbecues. I’m moving the table into the middle of the lawn so I can be totally immersed in it. They say you should spend the first year in a new home observing the garden before you make any changes. I did that. And now five years on I’m going to follow that advice again.

Spring bulbs
Spring bulbs in your garden are a simple pleasure to enjoy year on year

The more we look the more we see, and I feel I’ve lost sight of some of the beauty and charm that’s right under my nose, so I’m having a word with myself, slowing my roll. I’m also enjoying some new additions. The bulbs I planted in autumn are starting to come through and that’s always exciting to see. In the same way that I love space in a conversation, to let things sink in, I’m applying that to my garden this year: letting it percolate and trying to relinquish control a little more.

Get in touch:

Do you agree with Flo that we should all be trying to change a little less in our gardens and enjoy them more? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email us at: letters@gardenersworld.com

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