Friday, 27 June 2014

Dame Judi Dench and the Great Garden Conundrum

When is a garden not a garden? It might sound like the set-up to a very bad joke, but it is a question I have been chewing over ever since I decided to undertake a major overhaul of my compacted soil by hand (a tiring and tedious task which gives me biceps of iron and too much time to think). Usually boredom costs the earth because I have a tendency to daydream and my reveries are inevitably expensive. This time though, I haven't had a chance to ponder ideas of massive mortgage-sized proportions and for this we must thank Dame Judi Dench. 



I took the photo above in Norwich. Is it a garden? It looks and smells like one, but if you peer beyond the carefully crafted borders and behind the willow hurdles you will glimpse reality.

It is a film set. The lawns in the Norwich Cathedral Cloisters were remodelled for Tulip Fever with Dame Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz and Cara Delevingne. So is this a garden? Many of us grow plants in pots. Often these plants are temporarily sited and were we to suffer from indecision and a surplus of spare time, they could be moved every day of the year. So is a container garden a garden? How different are the temporary plant arrangements in the Cathedral Cloisters from those pots of half-hardy annuals we plop into borders to plug a gap?

It is intriguing to experience the effect that a garden/film set can have on a place. Certainly the Cloisters felt more romantic, which is just as well since Tulip Fever is a romance. It is set in the seventeenth century, so leaf blowers are out and draw-droppingly beautiful props are in.   

Isn't it strange how some gardening paraphernalia is a delight? Lengths of hosepipe hissing hither and thither do not fill my heart with joy. The number of Chelsea Flower Show gardens with hosepipes strewn across them this year was shocking. Tickets aren’t cheap and visitors deserve better. Yes, I know plants need water, but a few years ago, when I was allowed entry prior to opening, I saw gardens being watered before the paying public arrived.  

I do not have a problem with the act of watering plants during the show. A person with a watering can constitutes the ever-delightful gardener gardening which viewing gardeners love to see. It is less intrusive as the person will be out of the picture in under a minute and it is encouraging to see a designer taking care of the plants. Here, Luciano Giubbilei with his watering can and a cloth for spillages gives his lupins a drink in his gold medal-winning, Best in Show garden. He really did mop up after himself, taking garden care to a new level (if indeed a show garden is in fact a garden). 



Which brings me back to my original question. Naturally, I sought help from The Oxford English Dictionary. I don’t want to bore you with long definitions, so you will doubtless be relieved to learn that The OED defines a garden as "A piece of ground adjoining a house, used for growing flowers, fruit, or vegetables."
Brilliant! So if that area in front of your house, commonly known as your front garden, is laid to lawn with the occasional tree, it is not a garden since trees and lawns have no part to play in The OED’s definition! Strangely enough, the Tulip Fever set fulfils more of The OED's requirements of a garden than the tree/lawn combination. I wish the people at The Oxford English Dictionary would pull their fingers out and find us a decent definition of a garden to get our teeth into. In the meantime, I am going to chew up the noun, embrace the verb and get out into this...

Is it a garden? It has a handful of flowers, fruit and veg and adjoins a house, so according to The OED it is! Plenty of words spring to mind when I look at it, but garden isn't one of them. It's time I got back to digging out the claypan from hell and started daydreaming...

27 comments:

  1. It is a blank canvas garden :)

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    1. Let's hope it doesn't stay blank for long!

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  2. Agree with the first comment Ha :)

    I have been where you are. It is such hard toil. When we moved to the farmhouse I had an acre of blank canvas....and like you heavy clay :(
    I have landscaped a garden to my liking, but still struggle with the soil, even though I add manure every year.

    I see many spaces with just lawn and trees.....I do not class them as a garden. A true garden surely must be full of flowers, veg etc. That is my humble opinion only :)

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    1. HI Cheryl, it is hard work, but well worth it. We had torrential downpours yesterday. The area I have worked on (which is depressingly small) drained well, so I feel encouraged to dig on, especially as there are unworked areas which are still puddling this morning. I don't think I have ever been so happy to see a storm - or so obsessed with its consequences. Keep adding that manure and grit as you will have wonderful soil eventually! There is nothing humble about your opinion - it counts!

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  3. This is one of those rare spots where American English can help out with words. We use "yard' for this situation and it works quite well. A yard can be both lawn and garden or just the area surrounding a house. I remember being a bit confused by hosts on BBC garden makeover shows referring to a scruffy patch of weeds as a garden. Now friends and family are sometimes baffled when I refer to my entire yard as a garden.

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    1. Ah yes... we might refer to a wild garden as a garden. Strangely enough, the area photographed at the farm used to be a farmyard with a Nissen hut for the combine harvester, so the hope is that it is shifting from a yard to a garden! Your friends would certainly be baffled by the idea that the patch of former farmyard is a garden. Perhaps we Brits should be fussier about the use of the word.

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  4. I suppose you could say a tree has flowers! So our allotment with flowers fruit and veg isn't a garden as it doesn't adjoin a house and some of my favourite garden visits have been to houseless gardens.
    Then again what is a house ? Is a castle a house - does someone have to live in a building for it to be a house?

    Now look what you have started!

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    1. I think you should apply for a job at the Oxford English Dictionary, Sue. You would certainly keep them on their toes!

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  5. Awesome post and thank you for sharing have a blessed day

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  6. When I was growing up the only thing anyone I knew referred to as a garden was a vegetable patch.

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  7. Great post and interesting but where is the end......Let´s say last picture is still a blank canvas, but I can imagine that in a few years it may be a delightful cottagegarden with rows of vegetables and an abundance of flowers.

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    1. Now that would be lovely, Janneke. Oh the joy of the blank canvas!

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  8. A thought - provoking post which will generate endless musings as I weed and deadhead ! I have had the same thoughts about show gardens as nothing is permanent, so to me, they are more 'displays' than gardens. As for the film set, that is a very interesting conundrum ... maybe emotional response comes into it too. When I was little I had a tiny patch of earth for annuals which was my garden, and I thought of it as such, and felt ownership. Maybe once we take ownership and start loving that bit of earth and tending it , then it becomes a garden. So... using that definition, yours is definitely a garden !

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    1. What an interesting response. Gardens need tending, or else they revert to the wild. The act of taking ownership makes the difference, but not taking ownership in the legal sense - let's face it, there are plenty of patches of tarmac which are attached to houses and which might be described by the owners as garden, but which require little or no maintenance. I think your definition is more pleasing than the OED's. All we need to do now is quantify the whole tending thing!

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  9. funny you should mention this - a few weeks ago I read an article on this very subject:-
    Two judges called for the definition of what makes a garden a garden to be rewritten yesterday after a High Court battle over a pensioner's uprooted saplings.Property developer Michael Rockall, 65, had been given a criminal record for cutting down the young trees.Officials had decided that his overgrown three-acre garden had turned into woodland - that meant he needed a licence to fell the trees and he was prosecuted. But yesterday the two High Court judges overturned Mr Rockall's conviction from two years ago and called on the Oxford English Dictionary definition of an English country garden to be changed so that wild and uncultivated land can be regarded in law as a garden.

    There you have it - so now you can say that your piece of land is definitely a garden if you say it is.

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    1. This is fascinating, but doesn't it mean that any old patch of land can be a garden? I think those judges need to have a word with Jane! That said, I feel a bit better about the piece of land I am wrestling with. A garden it is!

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  10. A most interesting question. I think the permanence aspect is not to be taken into account given that with enough time, not a single garden is permanent. I would agree with Elaine above that an area is a garden when we decide it is one! If you think of the Japanese Buddhist gardens - they are not near an inhabited house, they do not grow flowers or vegetables but they definitely are gardens.
    The job you have undertaken is hard and tedious but beside keeping you in shape, see what very interesting post it is producing!

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    1. That is a very good point about Japanese gardens, Alain - and one which those at the O.E.D. ought to consider.

      Removing the clay pan is working! The ground is coping with sudden downpours much better now. I feel we're almost ready to plant!

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  11. I agree with Mark and Gaz - it's a canvas upon which to create a garden as defined by you and no one else. The concrete slab with a pool and a few flowers was Best in Show? How bizarre! Just think - this new garden is your opportunity to exercise and create at the same time. At least that's what I tell myself when I'm sweating, hauling, and cramming in plants.

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    1. It was a beautiful show garden - my photo didn't do it justice. There were large borders to my left as I took the shot, but I missed them out in favour of a watering designer!

      I have to say, my gym membership has become a little redundant (not that it was being used very often before I started my battle with clay and flint).

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  12. I think what a garden is to someone may not be to someone else, for instance, my allotment is a place to grow food, it's not my garden, yet Mick's uncle has an allotment which is always referred to as his garden. I don't think it has to be attached to a house, I suppose any outside space which belongs to you can be classed as your garden if you want it to be.

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  13. Hi Sarah, I must admit I had to do a double take on the garden in front of the cathedral as I thought, "I don't remember them having that", but all was revealed in the picture of the "garden" from behind. I don't envy you digging that area of compacted clay in your garden. I have lots of areas in the new garden to dig and I've invested in a tiller to take a lot of the hard work out of it otherwise I would end up doing my back in.

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  14. Interesting thoughts to ponder while I work in my 'garden' :) My garden consists of tree, shrubs, native plants, veggies, flowers ... much of my acreage doesn't look like garden but if I planted it I consider it garden. In the eye of the beholder I suppose. Elaine raises a good point though, what we consider garden is actually very important as law suits come up regarding municipal regulations and whatnot. A rather complex issue over what seems like a very simple thing.

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  15. Interesting thoughts, I think it really is a question of definition, a personal definition. I am currently living in house number 23 counting from birth, more than half of them since leaving home at the age of 16. I have had a ‘garden’ in every house/flat I have lived in, from container garden on a balcony to a huge football pitch size garden with adjacent acres of woodland. Now I have a postage stamp size London garden and I consider all of them – past and present ‘gardens’.

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  16. I love a post that sparks off a good debate in the comments! There's a lot to think about here but I like the idea that a garden is a space that a person cultivates and cares for - indeed, as you're doing with your 'yard'. I gave a large ceramic pot to a child last year for growing wildflowers and it became known as her garden. The idea of 'ownership', claiming a space through caring for it, also applies to the community garden that I've adopted and re-established. The estate I live on has a gated area divided into small plots intended for growing edibles. Many of these have now been paved or gravelled over for sunbathing in the UK summer (!!), have nothing growing and are called 'gardens' by the tenant caretakers. (I won't call them gardeners.) It's infuriating that the housing association landlords don't step in and restore the (in my view) rightful usage, especially when there's a waiting list of people who want a space to grow things. So, as well as the definition of 'garden', when is an allotment not an allotment?

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