Ruth Spencer digs out the truth about our gardening fetishes.

Whether you regularly trim your potager or just get a guy in once a fortnight to give everything a once-over, gardening is the nation's vice. Here are five people you will meet at the Garden Centre.

Love's young dream

Illustration by Andrew Louis
Illustration by Andrew Louis

Like a pair of David Attenboroughs, they lurk among the wither and leaf-curl of the Manager's Special bench. They've just put down the bond for a clapboard rental they can barely afford, but it's their first place together and it feels like a castle. It's certainly cold and draughty and there's a door they're not allowed to open, so it's basically a castle. They triumphantly snatch up a bare stick labelled Pear Tree to begin their pastoral love bower. They're used to sifting through the dross for the gold - they met on Tinder.

He needs a project

Illustration by Andrew Louis
Illustration by Andrew Louis

An older man slouches behind a trolley, his gaze longingly fixed on the cafe, as an older woman piles on pavers and damp course. Since retiring he's made the fatal error of "getting underfoot" and suddenly the garden needs an extreme makeover. He wears a hangdog expression as he watches her heft 20 litres of bark chips into the Nissan, but it's just for show. She doesn't know the Wi-Fi reaches the potting shed and he's halfway through Breaking Bad.

The fairy gardener

Illustration by Andrew Louis
Illustration by Andrew Louis

There are fairies at the bottom of the garden centre and apparently someone has to build them a lot of terrariums. Fairrariums? The fairy gardener sifts glitter and sand around fat succulents, adds teeny hobbit doors and adorable miniature letterboxes. She truly believes in magic, because how else is she getting away with spending half her workday on pixie landscaping?

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The Better Homes and Gardens

Illustration by Andrew Louis
Illustration by Andrew Louis

They're selling and need the place to look like someone, at some point, enjoyed living there, before the agent gives up and puts "blasted heath" in the description. No matter what their grand scheme is - a wisteria garland over the pergola, stately conifers along the drive - they're coming out with griselinia hedging and some potted colour, because that's what everyone leaves the garden centre with. Even if you bought a 2m cactus, you'll find yourself loading the boot with griselinia and potted colour. No one knows why this is.

The reluctant assassin

Illustration by Andrew Louis
Illustration by Andrew Louis

Hunched in righteous anger and wracked with guilt, he lurks in front of the poison shelf like a future Agatha Christie character. Something needs killing in the garden. Whether it's a wasp nest, compost rats or a devil's carpet of Onehunga weed, the poison shelf makes this gardener conflicted. He got into the game to cultivate life and here he is, plotting to end it; a dilemma as bitter as arsenic ($13 for pellets, $20 for powder).

Bonus: one you won't meet

Illustration by Andrew Louis
Illustration by Andrew Louis

Whoever it is that buys those realistic animal sculptures. Someone must because the garden centre keeps stocking them, but you never see anyone wander up to the counter with a weirdly convincing concrete tortoise. Yet there they are: constipated pugs, red-eyed albino rabbits permanently living a Watership Down nightmare, 6m giraffes grimly stalking an invisible savannah. Who is buying these, and, what kind of hellish, frozen circus is their garden?