Grasping at Order: In the Garden, in the Mind

I’ve been weeding frenetically these last few weeks. All of a sudden, I need form, shape and some semblance of order in my disordered garden. All of a sudden I’ve lost control of my acceptance of uncontrollability! I’m craving structure in a garden that has never known such things! I’m turning into a dictator! It is equally curious and hilarious.

For a long time, I’ve been thinking and writing about relationship and respect and how it grows in the garden. About connection rather than control. And now, at a time of fast-paced change and widespread fear, as the certainty that never was dissolves into a nebulous, swirling mist of not-knowing, I find myself wanting to chop and shape and weed and grasp at an ever receding vision of stability and order.

My dad will be happy with my new (temporary?) manner of cultivation. The mess of our garden – its weeds and waywardness – has always confounded him. Each time my parents visit, Dad suggests it’s time to invest in a whipper-snipper, a mower, a mechanical-something, whilst mum and I slowly, gently clear small patches of weeds around endemic plants shooting from the ground of their own volition. There is an order in disorder, and this is usually the space I inhabit, but these last few weeks I’ve needed it to feel more obvious.

The desire to feel like things are under control is, I guess, inherent in humans. Or, if not inherent, something we spend a lot of time clutching at. It’s very strange. We pass so much time thinking things are in order, that the future is knowable, that our worlds are held together by our actions and intentions, but actually, none of this is ever true. We’re masters of illusion – in our heads and in the garden.

As our world spins wildly as it always has – but now so much more visible, and with so much immediately at stake – the garden is refuge. As always. And as I dig and weed and prune, I allow the anxiety I feel about what is happening around me to mingle with the soil and seeds and mulch. To be breathed out.

And my newfound desire for dictatorship? I’m taking note. I’m trying to be kind to myself, because I know why it’s arisen, but I am also not keen on letting my inner despot get too noisy. I’m trying for acceptance, for being with not-knowing, rather than attempting to control what I can’t know. One thing I can say is this: There will be no investment in power tools. Whether this is a result of my wise ability to see things as they are (unlikely), or the fact it’s it’s currently illegal to leave the house (more likely), remains to be seen.

I’ve dug around the Planthunter archives for images of gardens that capture a sense of structure and form and calm. It’s interesting to observe how little is needed for a space to feel contained, ordered, safe. A repetition of colour, form, pattern; a hedge containing an entirely disordered planting; an avenue of trees; a symmetrical layout.

A little bit of order goes a long way. Maybe that’s the message I/we can take from my latest gardening exploits. I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a desire for stability right now. In the garden, in the mind.

Bill Henson’s Melbourne garden. The wildness of Bill’s garden is balanced by the sea of gravel at it’s centre.

Vertical timber cladding provides a simple and austere backdrop to Adam Simpson’s inner city courtyard garden.

The black trunks of Eucalyptus sideroxylon underplanted with blobs of privet at Rick Eckersley’s Musk Cottage create a sense of repetition and calm.
A simple palette of clipped shrubs, olive trees and gravel at Fiona Brockhoff’s home garden, Karkalla.
Charlie and June’s very well behaved Sydney garden.

Recycled timber sleepers used as edging in Will Dangar’s Bondi garden create a sense of repetition and unity.
An avenue of pine trees at Breenhold in Mount Wilson.

All you need is a hedge! Peter Miles’ Wahroonga garden.
Symmetry in the Bronte House garden.
Balance and madness in Trisha Dixon’s wild country garden.
A grid of hedged citrus orchards at Orongo Station in New Zealand, designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz and featured in The Planthunter: Truth, Beauty, Chaos and Plants.