A Gardener’s Eye Posted on December 9, 2015

A papal cypress

It can be a curse, having a gardener’s eye. It means a critical view of almost anywhere plants grow. Appreciative, too, of course – but sadly that happens less often. A practised gardener’s glance takes in every weed, every sickly plant, colour crime and misplaced tree. It makes no concessions to wayward taste. At best a too-loud scheme could be labelled in a forgiving way as ‘ironic’. A too-quiet one? The kindly explanation is ignorance; the poor things don’t know what possibilities they’ve missed.

We gardeners pounce on every moat, and are blithely unaware of our own beams. We have different levels of tolerance, of course. ‘Er indoors cannot abide a weed. It can block her entire view – until she spots another’. I go the other way, muttering ‘A sweet disorder in the dress…’.

A gardener can never be bored – at least not in daylight. The top of a bus provides endless fodder for critical analysis, from park-maintenance to street furniture (surely legitimate; we are experts on outdoor spaces) and above all front gardens – though side-streets, admittedly, offer richer variety than bus routes.

‘Critical’ is the key word. The one scenario that could lead to boredom is the improbable one of perfection. How frustrating it would be to contemplate a perfect garden. It is the feeling I get when I look at those 17th century prints of great estates, their endless alleys and waterworks impeccably aligned, one half precisely echoing the other in witless symmetry. Happily we know that a close up view would show us gappy hedges, wobbly edges and bedding past its best. We should have our satisfaction.

I only remember one garden where criticism could find no chink in a seamless performance. It was at Castelgandolfo, the papal summer residence in the Alban Hills. The clipped cypresses were finished with nail scissors and I counted, I swear it, nine gardeners sweeping a path with brooms. In unison.

One could always, I suppose, question the economics…

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