Is the function of your garden to be primarily a background to your life – the space you sit in when you dine outdoors, or the stage you set for your afternoon G and T? Or is your garden meant to be front and centre – a place of stimulation, of engagement with nature, or of a celebration of your love of plants?
I guess If you’re reading this, you’re likely to be somewhere near, or in, that latter category.
But the reason why it’s a useful distinction, and perhaps even a helpful or liberating one, is that the vast majority of people that seek professional garden design services in Australia are in the former category, while the vast majority of keen home gardeners are in the latter.
This is why, I’d argue, a lot of keen gardeners just didn’t quite ‘get’ ABC TV’s Dream Gardens. It would have been better if it hadn’t been spruiked as a gardening show at all, but pushed to the homemakers, or advertised as a design show. I was never more aware, than during the making of that show, of the great divide between the world of professional garden design, and that of the home gardener.
The weirdness for me is that I wear both hats. And they severely interfere with one another. Or maybe it’s that neither quite fully fits. As a home gardener, I want as much seasonal change as possible. I’d go for daily change if I could. (Actually, maybe not. I’d be too panicky about what I was missing on the days I couldn’t make time to go and enjoy the shift. Let’s go with weekly change). But that’s neither possible, nor even particularly desirable, for home owners who simply want a quiet, consistent, reliable and preferably low maintenance background to their lives. Whenever I create a garden that tilts in that direction for clients, I can’t help evaluating it through the lens of my horticultural desires and demands and marking it down accordingly. And whenever I create a horticulturally stimulating and demanding garden, I can’t help criticising and condemning on the opposite criteria.
I find I can wear both hats quite comfortably as a social-media consumer. I follow several Australian garden designers, and I’m forever looking at their work through the appropriate lens, and thinking something along the lines of ‘Wow. That is seriously genius planting. Dang, I wish I’d thought of that’ without in any way wanting it for myself or my own garden. And I follow several home gardeners that have me thinking ‘Oh man, that is so magically beautiful’, all the while knowing that the same planting could never work in any professionally designed setting.
Seeing the distinction can help you recognise the need for, and the genius of, both. Even if it’s only one of them fills you with longing.