I believe gardening is almost part of our DNA. Humans have been cultivating plants for various purposes since we headed to the plains from the forests; it is something we do instinctively if given the opportunity and a small amount of space. In today’s fast-paced world, gardening remains an opportunity to connect with nature and its natural rhythms. It is a chance to observe, create and produce something that gives pleasure and benefits whether that be for animal habitat, human shelter, recreation, relaxation, to grow food or simply for beauty. There are many worthwhile reasons to garden.
All plants sequestrate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the soil carbon pool. This function is mediated by a plant’s extraordinary process of photosynthesis, and most life on Earth depends on it. For this reason alone, cultivating a diversity of plants such as ground covers, tussocks, shrubs, trees and aquatic species is of the utmost importance if we’re going to save our world for future generations.
Gardening is good for your mental health and emotional wellbeing. The mere task of tending to a single pot plant on a windowsill can be rewarding. Watering, feeding, training and ensuring adequate sunlight for this single living organism can give pleasure and purpose as well as cleansing the air and adding a pop of green. Gardening on a larger scale takes you outdoors and into the open air, where you may enjoy birdsong, the wind on your face, the wonder of the sky, sunlight, and the benefits of vitamin D. Pondering the process of plant growth and marvelling at that of flowering does not fail to impress. For me, nothing is more satisfying than a day spent gardening, when at the end you can stand back and admire all you have achieved, feel connected to the earth and maybe eat something that you have grown.
Gardening with a friend, family members or helping a neighbour in need provides companionship and support, or in the realm of a community garden, strengthens bonds with those that live around us. Community gardens provide many benefits for participants, who may not otherwise have the space, knowledge or equipment. Community members have the opportunity to grow food, gather with a shared goal and a common purpose, to pool their knowledge, share their produce and interact socially. Through my involvement with Blairgowrie Community Garden I’ve experienced how much people benefit from this style of neighbourhood gardening, with impressive results.
Personally, for me the garden is a space where my imagination is stimulated and where possibilities are endless. I was seven years old when my mother died, and our garden was a reliable, safe retreat for me. Now in my fifties I still find comfort and joy in gardening, fiddling with plants and growing much of what we eat. It is a space in which I can lose myself, forget worries and find a sense of accomplishment in simple tasks. It is also a place where I can be creative, designing and planting new arrangements, moving potted plants around and picking foliage and flowers to display inside.
Professionally, my role as a landscape designer has been to design successful outdoor spaces for people in all types of settings and situations. But my role has never been solely clinical or practical: I encourage people to realise the benefits of being surrounded by plants and to engage with the natural world – for the good of all of us.
This is an edited extract from With Nature: The Landscapes of Fiona Brockhoff published by Hardie Grant Books, out 6 July 2022. RRP $70. Photography copyright © Earl Carter 2022