Last Saturday a friend and I went on the Toronto Botanical Garden’s fundraising garden tour, “Through the Garden Gate” in Swansea. The weather was perfect, the company engaging and the gardens absolutely stunning.
I was quite taken aback, however, by how many gardens on the tour were not created by the home owners–thirteen of the twenty-two properties had been professionally lanscaped. Some are even professionaly maintained. Most of the companies were listed along with the map that was provided and at some homes business cards were on display in case you wanted to contact them.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Many people hire landscape designers to come up with picture-perfect yards. In an affluent area of the city like Swansea, many people would have the means to invest in making their outdoor spaces both functional and beautiful. Some of the yards had steep hills leading down to Genadier Pond or the Humber River which would require very careful planning to ensure safety and longevity. Creating yards to complement such gorgeous homes would be no small feat, either. And my friends tell me that some people don’t have the time, or the physical ability, or even the desire to do the hard work that a creating and maintaining a beautiful garden requres.
There is no doubt that the professionally landscaped properties were incredible. My yard has evolved over the years, mostly according to which plants my friends gave away and how much time I could find to be outside. I have never had a significant budget, and so have no hard elements like fountains or stone walls. It was with pangs of envy that I saw properties brilliantly designed–and invested in–from the start. How else could you come up with the sunken garden with benches built in? Or put in a pool that looked as if it had always been there, the plants so simple and elegant beside it? There were private corners with chairs where I could imagine curling up with a good book, and clever pathways that led to from one carefully planned entertaining area to another. One house even had a balcony that stretched off the edge of the backyard, out over a cliff to give a breathtaking view of the pond below.
As I shovel compost and scrape myself on rose thorns, I have to admit that some part of me wishes I had a lanscaping firm to do the heavy lifting. I often press a willing husband and teenage son into service, mind you, but they are not always available. Sometimes I wish that I had planned more carefully and sometimes my mistakes result in unhappy plants (or worse!) Maybe it would be fun to see black and white drawings on a piece of paper come to life as if by magic.
Home gardens are, to me, a place to come not as a spectator but as a participant. They are about growing vegetables, playing badminton, and meeting God’s creation face to face. To have a small green space of our own is a gift to be received, not handed off to some company with a web site and a lawn mower. What about learning through trial and error and shaping a space so that it reflects our own preferences and values? What about the pride of growing sweet smelling roses? Or sharing a ripe, red tomato with a neighbour and telling them, “I grew it myself”?
I had gone on the garden tour to take a peek at what other gardeners like me were doing. I wanted to find new ideas and admire the hard work of fellow plant-lovers. I wanted to see and experience the backyards of regular people who liked to dig in the dirt, grow new life from seed, and live through the ups and downs of cultivating the soil. I had hoped to be inspired by gardens that had been lovingly created by people without horticultural degrees, and to feel encouraged as I went home to mine.
It was only days later, still mulling over the question about whether professional or home-made gardens are better, that I came to find the answer. Professionally landscaped gardens are not more valuable than mine because they were created with loftier budgets. Nor can I feel morally superior to those who rely on architects and groundskeepers instead of doing the work themselves. The truth is, green spaces are lovely. And as the saying goes, “It’s all good”.
There is a place for public parks and carefully planned spaces where people who have no clue about gardening can go and soak up the sunshine. There is wisdom in turning to knowledgeable and experienced people who can dream up new ways of using an outdoor space, or solve drainageproblems, or transform a yard into far more than a home owner had imagined.
Humble amateur gardens like mine are of great value, too. Being involved in the transformative process–rather than just an onlooker–is a remarkable gift for the gardener who gets her hands dirty. There is joy to be had in heavy labour and yes, even in sore muscles (I just think of all the calories I burned off). I believe that it is good to have unique gardens fill our neighbourhoods, reflecting the character and spirit of the people who live inside.
The garden tour wasn’t exactly what I had expected, but it was still fantastic. It was full of variety not just in the plants and flowers, but also in the ideas, philosophies, and approaches. It raised money to support a beautiful Toronto property that offers education and delight to the public and I shared a lovely day with my friend. It was good on all fronts.