I can’t find an origin for the saying ‘the British are a nation of gardeners’. I suppose it has its beginnings in the alleged quote of Napoleon’s that we’re a nation of shopkeepers and has been appropriated by those wanting to highlight the nation’s love of all things to do with gardening. It crops up all over the place though and does seem to have perpetuated the idea that we all have gardens blossoming with roses and manage self-sufficiency from our back gardens.
We may well have a long tradition of plant hunting, botanical discovery and boast some of the world’s most beautiful gardens, but if my forays into the world of house, and garden, hunting are anything to go by I’d suggest we don’t deserve the title of nation of gardeners anymore.
The insight into others’ back gardens has been an interesting and somewhat dispiriting experience. Instead of roses around doors and clematis covered arbours, an abundance of fruit and vegetable production and gardens teeming with wildlife, I’ve discovered tiny back gardens entirely taken over by trampolines, barren lawns and sadly very few plants along the way. My heart sinks at the words ‘low maintenance’ knowing this seems to be estate agent speak for a patch of gravel, and don’t get me started on artificial grass.
Non-gardening friends say they don’t garden because they don’t have the time or the money, both of which are fair points. Then there are the demands on any available garden space – children and pets aren’t always compatible with plants. So I can see, that in an age when there are so many demands on our time, why gardens have fallen by the wayside.
Supposedly the average back garden measures 90m² (270ft²) which is about the same size as my own garden. I know what a challenge it is to fit in a shed, somewhere to store wood for the fire, the bins and various recycling boxes, compost heap along with somewhere to sit. All this and then there might just be enough room for some actual plants. We dug out the grass when we took on our first garden to maximise the growing space and have managed to squeeze in a tiny pond and a small greenhouse but it’s all a squeeze. I yearn for somewhere that little bit bigger, but then catch myself because I know I should be grateful for the garden we’ve had for the last 10 years – a space I craved after years of moving from one rental house to another. When I look at the size of garden that is deemed acceptable for new build house I’m shocked at how they’re shrinking in size. I’ve seen houses advertised as having a garden and it’s been no wider than a corridor. One house had a triangular space big enough for a table and chairs and very little else. It’s somewhat inevitable with a growing population that land and space are at a premium, but what has happened to the visionaries like the philanthropic industrialists of the Victorian era behind the Garden City movement, where green spaces and gardens were integral parts of their plans for a happy and healthy community.
A growing number of young people are getting the growing bug after years of magazines and television programmes trying to make plants trendy. It seems to have worked, but ironically and sadly this is a generation that are increasingly unlikely to ever own their own home let alone their own outdoor space. Apparently a young garden designer at RHS Tatton recently commented that she’d be unlikely to ever have somewhere big enough for her own greenhouse.
As our gardens shrink and house prices march on upwards, the research that shows access to the outdoors and gardening is good for us grows. It seems that our gardens are disappearing and we don’t realise it. I’m just hoping as my quest for a new home for my plants begins in earnest that I can find somewhere with space to squeeze them in.