All Gardeners Dream

Buying bare sticks with a dream but at least this Magnolia Iolanthe has the promise of flower buds

A letter to the editor last week talked about the Pukeiti dream as if Pukeiti had the monopoly on dreams. I would suggest that pretty well every gardener I know works on dreams. It is what keeps us going. Call it vision, if you prefer, or hope or trust – but every time somebody buys a bare stick in mid winter, they are dreaming of what it should look like in spring when it comes into leaf.

Often folk will plant a long term tree with a dream. No matter that they know they will not live long enough to see the tree reach maturity. When one heads out with the spade and the plant, the dream is of how it may look in the future, always with the hope that subsequent generations will appreciate it. If it wasn’t for the dream, why would anyone plant rimu, kauri, totara, davidia involucrata, monkey puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana) and any number of other high quality, slow growing trees? Maybe to plant one is a dream for the future, to plant many is an inspired vision.

I briefly toyed with a theory that ornamental gardens (those planted merely to delight the eyes and nose and not to feed the stomach) are based on dreams whereas the current rage of the productive garden (fruit and veg) is based on pragmatism and quick results. But Mark disabused me of that idea immediately. No, he replied. Of course all those fruit trees and edible crops are based on dreams. Romantic dreams, fantasies even, of The Good Life, of eating wholesome food that not only tastes yum but is free of dodgy chemicals, of children who frolic out joyously to pick the silver beet for dinner and then consume it with gusto. The mere term home orchard conjures up picture book images of apple trees laden with ripe red fruit awaiting harvest. Hark, is that a swing I see hanging from the branch of the old apple tree? (But not from our dwarf apples, unless it is for dolls). The common mental image used to have grass beneath the trees in the old orchard (entered by a lichen encrusted wooden gate) but that betrays my age. These days it is more likely to be comfrey carpeting the ground below. Or maybe borage to attract the bees. It really does not matter that we all know there is a big gap between reality and the dream. There is much that can go wrong. The barefoot children can be stung by the bees on the borage. The trees need pruning and, upon occasion, spraying if there is to be much of a harvest. None of it is as easy as it looks. It takes time and practice to learn. Some veg crops will fail altogether. Some will hardly be worth the effort while some will yield an embarrassingly large harvest, much of which goes to waste. It will rain and the ground will get soggy and boggy (garden dreams are usually sunny). It is the nature of gardening that it is unpredictable and greatly dependent on factors beyond our control – particularly the weather.

Ornamental gardening is even more based on dreams because it is purely aesthetic and there is not much of the quick random reinforcement of harvests, however meagre. Those who rip into gardening and view it like interior decoration will overplant badly to get a quick effect and then tend to lose heart when it all becomes an overgrown jungle too quickly. Creating a lovely garden and creating a lovely house interior are opposite ends of the spectrum. Interior design is about creating the perfect picture (hopefully combined with good function) from the start. It is a fixed picture, already finished in its perfection and it sets the standard to maintain (though in all honesty it is mostly downhill from then on as day to day living scratches the paintwork, marks the carpet and personal clutter builds up).

Gardening, on the other hand, is about putting the building blocks in place and allowing time for plants to grow with the hope that the mental picture will be achieved over time. It is a much less exact and precise activity, fraught with outside interference. A garden is never finished. It is in a constant state of change and prone to unpredictability. That is why we dream, why we build mental pictures of our goals.

We may put in a row of little plants at 60cm spacing and trust that in time the plants will close up together, grow uniformly and make a smart hedge. Or we may build a seat beneath an overhead frame and trust that the bare sticks we plant will come into leaf and flower to create a shady bower for summer. We may (and more should) plant an arboretum across many acres with fine specimens of trees for centuries to come. Or we may develop a large garden which we hope will create a magical place full of scent, colour, form and botanical interest as well. Or we may just plant an orange tree and hope optimistically that in the future there are so many oranges to harvest that it feels fine to squeeze the juice from half a dozen just to get a glass of fresh OJ a day.

They are all dreams. No, the whole issue about dreams here is about who pays for them. Once the public purse is expected to foot the bill, it becomes a whole new ball game. Some might think that only the very naïve or optimistic could believe that the Pukeiti dream of the founders is in safe hands in the public sector. What will be safer in the public sector are the expansionist dreams of the latter day guardians of Pukeiti and that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the hallowed founders. But even they may have been surprised to read last week that Pukeiti is apparently some sort of de facto war memorial. Hmmm….