Monday, 15 February 2016

Gardening books and recent thoughts.

I have recently (finally!) read a book called "A taste for gardening" (by Lisa Taylor and published in 2008) in which the author discusses gardening as a practice in the context of class and gender.  The book was written after after an extended period of time investigating local gardening practices in the author's community with the image of gardening as a leisure pursuit of the wealthy in nineteenth century England, with its beautiful formal and landscaped gardens that are famous for their designers and owners.

There is a lot to take in and a lot of references to investigate but one subject that is investigated fairly thoroughly is the influence of television programmes concerned with gardening.  The author interviewed a number of people about their gardens, the significance of gardening and the influence of these programmes. The book is concerned with England and English gardens, but much of the information is relevant here also and I suspect that attitudes to television gardening is similar here (Australia.)

The 'make-over' gardens that are completed in a short time, while the owners are away, are discussed and the consensus seems to be that these owners are not 'gardeners' at all.   The gardeners considered that a garden needed to develope over a period of time, with cuttings and plants from other gardeners, so that the gardens had a history and culture that was relevant to the owner/gardeners.   These people also thought that the television gardeners seemed to have much better soil than they had in their own gardens.  I can relate to this,  having alkaline clay soil here that despite annual additions of gypsum and compost remains stubbornly the same and seriously lacking in micro-nutrients.  That is no surprise.  Old continents (like this one) with old soils that have been breaking down for millions of years and from which rain has leached minerals for just as long, are bound to be fine, non-wetting clay soils with a real deficit in trace elements.  The television gardeners here do seem to have very different soils as well, and it does make growing plants look very easy.  This apparent ease of garden success seems obvious to anyone who has watched television gardeners working in their plots.  I have often wondered how many failures these gardens do have and it might be interesting to come back a few weeks later to see how the seedlings or transplanted specimens are doing.

In the very well detailed study described in the book, there was also a significant difference in the gardens of middle class people compared with those of working class people.  The 'garden make-over' programmes and their 'lifestyle gardens' did not appeal to the working class people who're interviewed and whose gardens had a different significance.  The author describes this as 'way-of-life' practices and a view of the garden that related more to local knowledge and cultural practices that came from an oral tradition and a sense of community that didn't fit with the 'lifestyle practices' of the consumer society.
It is hard to imagine that in ancient and mediaeval times women were not involved in gardening.  Nicholas Culpepper dedicated his book "A Physicall Directory" to women healers who opposed the growing mercenary approach to plant knowledge at the time.  It is hard to imagine also that in cottage gardens, not only were healing herbs raised, but that women have been growing vegetables to add to their diets.  In "Radical Gardening" (2011), George McKay describes the 'reclamation' of the 'forgotten' history of women's gardening including the witches of old who cultivated plants for their healing properties.  Taylor suggests that, in fact, the experience of working class women would indicate that, rather than being forgotten,  much of this information survives in the gardens of ordinary people who don't see the 'lifestyle gardens' as real gardens at all, and the makers of those gardens as gardeners at all.
The books that I have been reading are:
Classed and Gendered Practices
Lisa Taylor

Politics, Idealism & rebellion in the Garden
George McKay

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