The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is "loss of soul."

Thomas Moore - Care of the Soul (1992)

Gardening can be so many things, offers so many things. Most importantly, and often forgotten, gardening is therapy for the soul. The 'soul' part - the feeling of being in tune with nature, or a spiritual element to life - is maybe not recognised as much as it should be.


A few times a year I go out onto the pavement that runs down the side of our house, to cut back the plants that grow over our garden wall. I'm seen by passers-by as 'doing the gardening'.

When, in truth, this is nothing to do with gardening as I see it - it's merely fulfilling my civic duty. Plants from my garden constantly encroach the pavement and threaten to garrot or blind passers-by.

I sometimes hear people swearing as a piece of Clematis montana hits them in the face. I have to go out there to clear the public highway, to stop the urge my garden has to spread outwards beyond its designated boundaries.

It's a shame that in many gardens this kind of 'civic duty' gardening is the only kind that goes on. They are then merely bits of land wrapped around a property, advertising only the neatness of those living within. (Or in my case, the lack of neatness.)

From this viewpoint, gardening is nothing creative or life-enhancing, but all tedious fighting against the forces of nature at their most dull, mere maintenance work for the sake of access or surface appearance.

The beauty of gardening is that it encompasses the above aspects - some people do like trimming hedges, after all - and so many others. There are so many things gardening can be, so many things it can do, so many ways it can be approached.

Just being

For instance, my favourite: that behaviour that appears to the non-gardening observer as complete inaction, but is in fact the studied observation necessary to garden-making and modifying . . . I usually do this for a long while, and it involves standing about in the sunshine drinking tea and smoking a cigarette. Planning the work is very important, I tell myself. When really, I'm just looking.

Looking is a crucial part of gardening. As is just 'being', sitting out there experiencing it, in all seasons. As is working really hard on any task that gets you outside away from the TV, the ringing telephone, the demands of daily living.

As are those perfect evenings in early summer, when everything is shooting upwards and outwards, and you don't care that later it will all be moving outwards again over the garden wall and you'll have to go through that whole cutting back thing again . . .

Because in particular moments, in the dusk of a late May evening, when everything glows, when green seems greener than you've ever seen it before, and the roses you planted are beginning to flower, future tasks don't matter, neither do past worries -  because you witness a perfect moment of soul-restoring beauty.

That's what making a garden is for.

Delphinium 'Summer Skies'