Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Garden grooming

Those of you who follow me on twitter (www.twitter.com/petesgarden) will no doubt have noticed that amongst all the random garden, science and knitting tweets, there has also cropped up something called Armpits4August. This, in its own words is “a month-long charity event for all women which aims to raise money and awareness of PCOS whilst challenging beauty norms and encouraging self-acceptance” and I heartily recommend checking it out.

You may well ask what this has to do with gardening but bear with me and you’ll see.

Armpits4August is challenging the belief that women should have to keep up a shaving/waxing/plucking/etc regime just to appear a certain way, that this is the norm and therefore anything other than this perfect view is seen as abnormal. This was in my mind today whilst I was scalping a lawn for a client and I realised how deep these views went. It’s not just ourselves we expect to be a certain way but our environment too, the level of personal grooming and the ‘rules’ that go with them are as old as we are and are mirrored in our houses and gardens. Whether it’s the elderly gentleman who always wears a shirt and tie with a perfectly edged straight lawn outside or the immaculately manicured young couple with lines of alliums grown in bold contrast to plum slate mulch and tight box edging, there are these rather overzealous guidelines we’re expect to follow. It’s not just hair that is frowned upon when it’s outside it’s defined area, but plants too.
Take one of my clients, she has a long lawn that over the years I’ve managed to creep some shape and interest into however she will not waver on how tightly mown she expects it, to the bone.
“It’s too short” I tell her “it’s scalping and damaging the grass”.
“It’ll grow back” is the answer I get.
The poor lawn is cropped tight because that’s what you’re supposed to do; in her view, no matter that it’s high maintenance and devoid of character. A ‘happy’ looking lawn to me is dark green, long enough to stick up through your toes and bend slightly when wet with dew, it has flowers and pollinators flitting round, it has life and is a joy to behold, this does not sit comfortably with what is generally accepted however. Most peoples definition of a good lawn is evenly coloured with no weeds and all the grass of the same length.
At another house an otherwise dull straight concrete path down the side of the garden had been brightened up over the year with my careful selective weeding of the edges so that come spring it was full of wild pansies, bugle, mini ferns and alyssum...or would have been if the client hadn’t come out one day and soaked the path in weed killer because her sister had told her it was untidy with plants growing alongside it. I nearly cried.
All too often I’ve had to explain that the best way to manage a difficult area in the garden is to grow what likes it there, it sounds crazy but you’d be amazed at how often people buy plants for an area because they like the plant regardless of the fact it doesn’t like it’s placement. Roses in heavy clay, ferns along a sun baked drive whilst at the same time being asked to remove plants that are doing well there because they’re regarded as weeds by the client. In all truth there are some plants which really are weeds and you don’t want growing in your garden, just as I look wrong with a moustache so marestail is never going to be a welcome sight amongst your borders.
But this doesn’t hold true with everything, if you’ve a barren piece of garden that constantly needs clearing just to remain boringly barren, might it not be more interesting to do a bit of selective weeding. If part of the garden doesn’t seem to favour some planting don’t attempt to force the wrong plants in just for the sake of appearance because in truth it’ll end up looking as out of place as a comb over in the wind.
So consider letting a part of your garden grow that you’ve never let go before, see what plants appear you might be surprised and with the time you save from tending it, make yourself a cuppa and look up www.armpitsforaugust.com.