Sunday, 26 October 2008

The British and their gardens

I was writing a review of the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens at Wisley earlier today, which got me thinking about the relationship between the British and their gardens.

The RHS for many epitomises this relationship. Founded in 1804, it is dedicated to promoting and developing horticulture in all its forms and to encouraging gardening. And, on one measure, this seems to be as relevant as it ever was: Gardeners' World and Gardeners' Question Time remain very popular programmes, and the annual Chelsea Flower Show is always packed.

However, a stroll through any suburb these days will demonstrate the extent to which we're losing the tradition: gardens paved over for parking, some looking more like rubbish tips, and others simply neglected. And yet, garden centres have become popular destinations for a day out - with more people than ever wandering around the rows of plants and shelves groaning with gardening paraphernalia. But does this, and the popularity of the TV and radio programmes, show that we've become a nation of armchair gardeners instead?

Quite possibly.

I'm not quite sure why this has happened. I suspect a major reason is that we simply have more choice of what to do these days: in the past, people didn't have cars or necessarily the resources to go out regularly, so cultivating their little patch was itself an important leisure activity, as well as a source of pride. I know of many friends who simply can't find the time to spend in the garden, and simply pay for someone else to keep it all neat and tidy. And yet, when I had a garden, I used to find it incredibly cathartic to spend a few hours every weekend digging over the borders, weeding and generally getting my hands dirty.

Perhaps it's time to rediscover our love of gardening?

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