We carve out a parcel of land around our dwelling, add some landscaping and select plants to display nature’s beauty and bounty. This orderliness of things is pleasing to us. We feel in control as though our effort has tamed the wilderness.
The cleared patch puts some space between our homes, allows us to potter around outside without bumping into the dangers that trigger our fight and flight response and even provides fresh lettuce for a salad.
The first gardens were probably about clearing the vegetation around the hut so that we would not step on an unseen snake and the water would drain away more easily.
Most of us have or would like a small garden, our own small patch of tamed tranquility. We also enjoy visits to grander spaces that surround opulent homes for a garden is also a statement. It says something about the owner.
These spaces are so important to us that when we allow half the land area in the suburbs of many of our cities to be gardens. This makes our cities bigger, city infrastructure more expensive, and our commutes longer.
So why is it that with all these good reasons and commitment to have a garden we actually don’t spend that much time in them?
Obviously during the week we are at work and our kids are at school so we cannot be in two places at once. Then there is homework, the newspaper or TV, and dinner to prepare. At weekends we have shopping and sports and, well, a whole bunch of things to do.
There is some gardening of course; only this is mostly to keep the garden looking good.
And then you can’t be in the garden in the rain.
Take away all the effort in upkeep and we hardly spend any time in the garden at all. Only the kids use it and for them it is an attractive space until they get to high school when other things tweak their interest or the space is just too small for real soccer.
There must be another reason for our love affair.
It could be because all we need is to see evidence of our personal control over nature. A garden is a space close to us that we (or perhaps the landscaper) have tamed and bent to our will if you like. It is a safe buffer between the real world and us.
And yes, we like that space to be beautiful. We like to select and display selections from nature that we especially like or on occasion might even want to eat. Most of all we want it to look good simply because looking at it is what we will do most.
Perhaps it is OK that we do this, that we create this visual buffer. Especially if when we get a spare moment and its not raining we wander around the garden or just sit in it, maybe even on the grass. Maybe we are now so removed from nature that it really is too much for us to be exposed directly to its real tooth and claw and that our modifications of nature are a necessary half way house.
My guess is that these days, gardens get looked at only occasionally and entered for their own sake very rarely. When I travel on the train to the city, a journey of 60km each way, I can count on one hand the times I have seen people in their gardens.
So maybe gardens are actually about that neighbour thing.
Perhaps they are there to demonstrate how wealthy we are. It explains why when we look to buy a house, the size and shape of the garden around it is so important to our purchasing decision.
It would be better if we actually spent more time in our gardens, just because we can.