Golden rules for senior gardeners
THE PRINCE OF WALES has always shown an interest in the fortunes of COUNTRY LIFE and, to celebrate its first 120 years, he invited staff and friends of the magazine to Highgrove, not least for us to see the progress of his garden. It was a memorable opportunity to wander on the loveliest of evenings and recognise the personality that the planting and collections reveal (My week, page 38).
Whether extensive or a small patch, for so many of us, the garden is an immense source of strength and serenity. It challenges and it comforts. It provides tranquillity and delight. I’m never surprised that the story of Creation starts in a garden.
I, too, have a garden, far less extensive and much more haphazard than The Prince’s, but I love it no less for that. It provides me with flowers and fruit. I grow salads, vegetables and herbs and, this year, with its long sunny days, I have indulged myself with much sitting and eating outside. It is in my garden that I’m happiest, most conscious of my good fortune and most at peace with the world, but then I’m well and more or less able to cope.
The garden isn’t a burden, but it is a responsibility and it does have to be kept up. This is where I come to the gardener’s existential problem: the better it becomes, the more demanding it gets and, if you’re not careful, you’re trapped.
That’s what happens with increasing regularity to friends and acquaintances. One recently announced she was downsizing—to a bigger house, but a smaller garden. The plot that she had created and lovingly tended for 40 years was just too much for her and her even older part-time help. It was the garden, once a consolation and joy, that finally drove her out of the family home.
The garden had become her master and she could no longer put up with being its slave. There was always more that could be done: another bed, a little orchard extension, some further planting, an idea she picked up at Chelsea, an enthusiasm of a friend. Little by little, what had been a pleasant, easily managed space had become, in retirement, a demanding, full-time job.
As her guests played croquet or relaxed with a glass of Sancerre, she laboured in the herbaceous borders, on hands and knees, with trowel and fork. For the rest of us, the garden was a joy to behold, but, for her, what had been a labour of love had become increasingly just a labour. She has become another driven out of house and home just at the time when one most values the familiar.
To help prevent this growing army of the evicted, Agromenes has prepared his Garden (Reduction of Responsibility) Ordinance:
Rule 1: Spend at least as much time sitting, eating and drinking in the garden as working in it.
Rule 2: Learn to walk around with your friends without compulsively weeding or tidying.
Rule 3: No extensions, new beds or greenhouses after retirement. If you couldn’t manage it when you were working, you won’t when you’re not.
Rule 4: If it gets too much, share it with a friend, offer part as an allotment or simply let it go.
Rule 5: Never consider moving simply because the garden has got too much. The abolition of slavery applies to gardeners, too.
‘had What had been a labour of love become increasingly just a labour