Gardening: Growing awareness

By Justin Newcombe

Justin Newcombe pauses to reflect on the importance of gardens

Classical, architectural gardens were a sign of man's dominance over nature. Photo / Thinkstock
Classical, architectural gardens were a sign of man's dominance over nature. Photo / Thinkstock

What's in a garden? Well plants for a start, some paths and a bit of lawn, sometimes water but all together that doesn't make a garden. The one thing a garden always has in it that the natural world doesn't necessarily, is people. The reason for this is a garden is a human invention, a view of nature, of the natural world and of how we see our place in the scheme of things. Without our help nature would soon return the spaces we occupy to a "wild" state starting with a few weeds here and there which will colonise the ground providing habitat for insects and birds bringing seed and larger varieties of plant material.

The modern garden had a long row to hoe to get to where it is today and the human view has many different purposes and variations. A classical garden with lots of topiary, hedges and symmetry is all about the control of nature, human dominance over nature, a delusion rather than ability. This is an attempt, along with classical architecture, art and feats of engineering, to try and set ourselves apart from nature. It's an ego trip, but I can be a fun one.

Another idea of gardening emerged during the beginning of the industrial revolution. This was the so-called "Landscape" garden. Perhaps this is where we get the term today. Instead of the tight geometric arrangements that had preceded them, landscape gardeners arranged nature in more natural way, introducing rolling lawn areas and more park-like effects with less symmetry, natural looking ponds and water features and more eclectic plant arrangements. These ideas originated in the large estates of Europe. They usually contained a woodland area which was more or less left to its own devices. As this style of landscape or garden design developed many designers made the wooded areas more prominent, bringing them closer to the house.

Many of our ideas of the world and our place in it were being challenged at that time. Instead of taking for granted that we were the lords of the earth, there was the beginning of an understanding that we were actually part of something larger instead.

The industrial revolution saw the emergence of the middle classes and, in typical middle-class style, gardening took on a whole new life. With better housing and more time available, having a pleasure garden was seen as a status symbol, one of the many indications that the occupier had somehow separated themselves from the plebeian masses.

In many instances all of these ideas still ring true today. Our reasons for going to all the trouble, time and expense of propagating and nurturing a garden are also diverse; much of its practical i.e. lots of lawn to play on and a driveway for the cars. But the one thing everyone has realised through our short history is that a garden provides sanctuary. At the end of a busy gardening year - with the hard mid-summer work yet to come - I figured it was time to pause and remind me (and you) that this idea of sanctuary has always been why a garden is so important to us. In a world where you're bombarded with messages from the airwaves literally from when you wake to when you crawl into bed in the evening, one of the few places you'll find any respite, especially during this time of year might be your garden.

- NZ Herald

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