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  • Writer's pictureTony Kendle

What are gardens for?

Like many things we often take for the granted the fact that we have gardens at all. But have you ever stood at the window, looked onto your patch and wondered - 'why is this small part of the vast and complex living Earth in my care?' What is it there for, what gifts does it bring me and what gifts can I bring to it?

Most answers promoted by contemporary culture are utilitarian rather than inspirational. Our gardens are described as ‘outdoor rooms’ an extension of our normal lives - a place for entertaining sometimes, often a dining space and often a play room for the kids. It is also an important part of the ‘front’ the facades of our homes and lives that we like to represent us to the world.


Front gardens for show?

Don’t underestimate how gardens advertise who you are and what you care for. The greatest illustration of this truth were the grand estates and gardens of the 16th to 18th centuries. For the rich and powerful, the extent and quality of the garden was the outward show of the owner’s wealth, education and influence - your kitchen gardens had to grow the latest varieties, the ornamental area needed to display the latest plant hunter discoveries.

The landscape needed to bear the signature of the most fashionable designers, and be peppered with statues demonstrating the best classical education and wit.

But beware - if you were too showy, too ready to display your power and wealth you could bring down the displeasure of the crown, who might see this display as a power play and even a threat!


Or front gardens for wonder?

I would like to argue an alternative view - the garden is not there just to be useful or display our wealth; the front is less important than the substance. If we are blessed to have one, a garden can be there to make our lives wonderful and to be an observatory where we can learn about all life and somewhere we can give something back.

When indigenous Australians talk about their country, they often say ‘we belong to this country’ rather than this country belongs to us. In a similar spirit someone once told me “rather than thinking this garden belongs to me, I like to think, I belong to this garden” - it changes everything and is more rewarding in the end.

When indigenous Australians talk about their country, they often say "we belong to this country” rather than this country belongs to us.

To unlock these rewards it helps to first learn the basics of how to care and understand our land, including fostering skills such as observation, secondly we must firm an intent:declare this land our unique opportunity to express a love of life rather than a love of ‘lifestyle’ or consumption.

Someone once told me“Rather than thinking this garden belongs to me, I like to think, I belong to this garden.”

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