The Pleasure Of Anticipation

Thoughts about the frustrations and rewards of gardening


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Gardening is as much about anticipation and potential, as achievement and results. Through long winter months, when the soil is cold and the chill in the air can be dispiriting and frustrating for mind and body; often weeks will pass when any active work in the garden is inhibited by the weather and ground conditions. Grass too frosty, or wet to walk on for fear of creating future problems; soil to muddy and lumpy to dig over and the thought of all the clearance and cutting back, all too easily postponed.

The sheer frustration of collecting leaves, hours spent blowing, or raking them into piles, only to be thwarted by a last blast of wind, you swear Mother Nature was personally tormenting you. Then on turning, there are as many newly fallen leaves behind you, as there were when you started.

The anticipation of a forthcoming event for me is always better, or worse than the actual happening itself. Often the actuality is just a flash in the pan, so fast there is no time to savour the moment, feel the enjoyment, or suffer the anguish. There is a delightful German word, Vorfreude; a near translation being anticipation tinged with pleasurable anticipation. The memory is always embellished for good, or bad, subjective, sometimes with a degree of self-deprecation and retrospective sang-froid, that may have been absent on the occasion. The passage of time and hindsight serve better; the garden yesteryear always better and next year, the promise of great things to come.

For a gardener, planning and preparation are all important, many, spending weeks trawling through books and catalogues in search of fresh ideas and unusual plants. Most much loved English gardens contain plants that originate from various climates and countries worldwide and with vastly different demands in terms of light, soil and weather. Mediterranean plants tolerate and thrive in relatively poor soils and high temperatures for instance.

Some plants like an acid soil; Azaleas, Camellias, Hydrangeas, Pieris and Rhododendrons, to name a few. Then again others, such as Houttunyia and Irises revel in moist conditions. A brief mention of a couple of ground cover selections for shade and sun; Cotoneasters and Vincas for the former and Alchemilla Mollis and Euonymus, the latter. Of course there are untold others to enjoy, but one would need shelves of books, or hours on the internet to discover and research all.

The fly in the ointment and there are always several, is of course that a garden filled with plants from all global regions will over the years delight and disappoint, often in equal measure. A baking hot, dry year is torture for plants that demand moist and temperate conditions, but ideal for Lavenders and rock roses. However, a garden is ever a work in progress, as indeed we all are and as such a reflection of experience, increasing maturity and taste of the gardener. It is said that new gardeners want instant colour, but time and tide bring an appreciation of the subtle and mellow dynamics of leaf texture. Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder and one should follow the path of subjective vision and eschew fashion for fashions sake.


Mike O’Brien; Townhouse Gardens.

June 20, 2012

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