253 - Gardening Enjoyment - or not.


Many people seem to garner significant enjoyment from doing a bunch of activities grouped together under the collective activity gardening. I am not one such. I do not understand why that is so and this page explores that problem.

My first wife1  quite clearly had significant enjoyment from the weeding, planting watering and general titivating that she went to do in the garden; it didn’t much matter how much garden we had, as that merely multiplied - as far as I could tell — the amount of time and therefore enjoyment there was to be had outside int he garden. My role was the heavy digging, the ‘big’ stuff; On occasion I’d get to plant a big thing, like a tree. When we have several acres, my jobs included the grass reduction (mower, scythe) where the sheep didn’t go, some of the hedge trimming (but we generally used a farmer on contract for that, big holes, drainage and weed reduction (pulling, spraying, cutting). For example, when we discovered that thistles are a notifiable weed, I had many Saturday mornings in which I’d go around the field pulling thistles up — and counting them. The first few weekends the count was in three figures (300 the first time, I think) and when this reduced to under two dozen, it was reduced to a routine habit, probably with added selections such as nettles. Whatever was pulled up was generally put in front of the sheep for inspection and possible mastication.   The most fun element of all of this was the last bit, discussing the results with the animals. 

I would measure the satisfaction in this activity as much the same as having done the vacuuming, or cleaning the bathroom. Those whose reaction is ‘bloke, liar’, need to understand that since returning to Britain the cleaning chores are entirely my responsibility, and though No1 wife generally cleans the kitchen, the rest of the house, including ‘her’ bathroom, is all on my list of chores. Responsibilities. Because she works and I don’t.

IN the current house we thought it would be interesting to attempt to grow some of our own food. The list of what has been in the garden this year includes a bay tree, chives, onion, tomatoes. The garden does not have a greenhouse and there is nowhere we could site one in any sensible way, so we put the tomatoes in the front lobby, what Father would have called a vestibule, where on our perception there is serious solar gain. The water throughout of the tomato plants was large and we added a number of other seeds in pots to the industrial shelving I moved to the lobby. Growth was spectacular and watering was required at least twice daily. On going away for 48 hours, I moved the plants to the back of the house so as to reduce the demand for water. One result on return was that at three of perhaps ten pots no longer grew anything, as if some combination of the move, surplus water and reduced sun was enough to stop further growth. Indeed, the next few weeks has shown that moving the plants was an error, though whether leaving them as they were would have been better of worse, I do not know. Of the dozen plants moved, two continue to succeed, two are still sick and the remainder have given up. Which I read as ‘I successfully killed them'.

So the tomatoes have produced some fruit. I do not deny that we have enjoyed them. They taste no better than what comes from the supermarket. At minimum wage the cost of the homegrown tomatoes is, I estimate, about three times that of from the shop. Therefore the cost-benefit of the homegrown versions can only be justified if there is a value attached to the physical interaction with the plant. That is to say, that unless I say there is gain from the way one feels about the growing process, to which one can attach some value equivalence, then the end result, tomatoes on the table, is not any gain that I can appreciate. Which might well point to a failure in myself as a human being, or it might point out to those who enjoy gardening that there is in some sense a price put on that enjoyment.

The volume of tomatoes we eat in a year is something like 20-50 times what we grew; what we ate was no better than what we have been buying and in some cases not as good; the failure to keep the plants looking well and the constancy of attention required are not perceived as positives. Indeed, I see so few positives I do not expect to repeat the experiment, or to do so with much lower expectations and far less commitment / involvement.

The bay tree, which lives outside in the summer and may perhaps be planted to see if it will survive a winter, needs less attention than indoor plants but remains something that is given attention on every trip with ‘gardening’ in mind. To those who enjoy gardening, perhaps there is delight in seeing how each plant is doing, but to me it seems that every plant needs attention. If they need attention then (to me) I have done something wrong, such as expect a plant to grow in Britain, or some other failure — wrong soil, wrong light, wrong neighbours, whatever. I don’t see any part of that as positive. I’ll go further; the plants that don’t need attention are clearly in some sense, happy, so from my perverse perspective, these are plants I might be able to enjoy. We have many shrubs and trees, some of which flower attractively for a time, some of which grow vigorously; that doesn’t necessarily mean I or we like what they do. We have a magnificent apple tree, which produces a fine crop; we don’t eat sweets or puddings, so we have zero use for the cooking apples it produces. We note that our neighbours have very similar trees and we saw no-one picking fruit last year. I put upon several visitors to not only help pick fruit but take loads away. I am quite sure that this was a reward of dubious value for the effort of picking. We have not yet eaten any of the apples I stewed or those I pickled; we simply have no use for the crop. I was encouraged by our tree surgeon’s response to my suggestion that we graft eaters onto the tree, but it turns out he wanted the pruning work and had no intention to do any grafting; he has not admitted whether this is even possible. So we have a big fruit tree dominating the garden whose value is aesthetic only. No, we cannot replace it, as the rules for the conservation area make it quite clear that we are much more easily replaced.

I conclude that I know far too little about what might grow well in our garden. Clearly I must experiment if I am to discover what ‘wants’ to grow here, or to discover how much soil I must transplant from elsewhere so as to persuade something I like as  plant to grow here; heathers, for example, clearly fail, which I think means that acid-loving plants are a no-no unless I cultivate a patch of acidic soil. 

My daughter, who does enjoy gardening, suggested that I missed out on all the positive elements of gardening, because my past experience is only the big pruning, big digging and so on, but none of the repotting, very little planting, no tending of baby plants that she associates with the positive side of the activity. She may well be right.

Do I enjoy being outside? Well, yes, but to me outside is paired with exercise, preferably vigorous. Gardening seems to find parts of my back that will protest quickly, so that a digging project these days lasts about 20 minutes before some part starts to complain  I conclude either `i’m doing something hugely wrong or that I’m simply not built for gardening. bending over is rapidly uncomfortable; I’ve tried taking stools to sit on when weeding and all I’ve learned so far is that whatever stretching routines i do, gardening only serves to show that they are largely ineffective — or, to put that differently, they are not serving to make gardening a comfortable pastime. 

So all activity in the garden is uncomfortable, it is a chore, it is consequently not enjoyed. I can see from the people older than me that this is an activity I should be able to do, especially since my health is relatively so good it is embarrassing. I can see that I should be gaining enjoyment from gardening and I am coming to the conclusion that either my approach is entirely wrong or that there is a fault (difference) within me that fails to appreciate some element of this activity. Maybe I am expecting something from gardening that is not there to be found. I get jolts of serotonin from making music (but not from listening to it) and from running (any exercise that raises the heart rate, so a brisk walk works). But gardening really doesn’t do any of that.

I don’t see the point of sitting in the garden, either. When the weather is nice enough to be outside, the light is too severe for reading; I don’t need any more tan; I rarely sit and imbibe; so why would I go outside to sit? Answer, to chat, which requires there to be a second person in the house.

Why does one have a garden? I get that idea; having green outside the window has a good effect upon one’s mood. Adding some colour interest to that (flowering something) adds positively; having a garden the other side of the windows is definitely a Good Thing. Maintenance of that Good Thing should also be a positive and I will agree that it is, but at the same time my tolerance for the associated work is very low, mostly because the marginal utility of the slightly improved view of the garden is, for me, exactly that, marginal.

DJS 20180824
and from today I collect State pension, aged 1000001

1 I like to say that wife No2 is now the No1 wife. The implied reverse is not true.

 However, © David Scoins 2017