Works in the Herald 1933

For many years it has been my habit to divide gardeners into three classes. These are professional gardeners, professional amateur gardeners, and amateur amateur gardeners. Professional gardeners are usually rather earthy, uncommunicative men with a deliberate manner, a slight stoop and the dull fish-like eye of the confirmed pessimist.

Pay no attention to that eye, or to the air of depression which the professional gardener habitually wears. It is all part of a pose, deliberately assumed to keep your hopes from rising too high.

His object is twofold. In the first place his intent is to prevent your making any plans ahead that might involve the sacrifice of the choicest of his blooms for cut flowers. Interior floral decoration is to the professional jobbing gardener a foolish and effeminate practice that, for no useful purpose at all, denudes and despoils his cherished garden.

But there is a still deeper purpose in his assumption of a gloomy and pessimistic air. He deliberately prophesies the worst so that, when even a moderate success is achieved, his own kudos and reputation for wizardry are thereby maintained and magnified.

In this he proves himself a diplomat and a philosopher of no mean order. This practical man usually scorns theoretical botany and the use of scientific names. A primrose by the river's brim may conceivably be more than a primrose to him; but it is certainly never an Obconica Grandi-flora.

Also, in his heart of hearts, he looks upon the garden and all therein as his property rather than that of the boastful upstart whose sole claim is based on a meaningless freehold title. In this the professional jobbing gardener is probably quite right.

In the second class are the professional amateur gardeners. These are very likely the happiest, most genuine and self-contained of all gardening clans. They are usually practical and industrious people with sufficient love for flowers to make the most exacting task a pleasure and a pastime.

The least admirable group within this class is lavish in the use of technical terms and foreign nomenclature. One belonging to this group will grow blooms not so much for any innate love of beauty as for the rather base purpose of crowing over his gardening friends. Also, size with him counts for far more than mere beauty; and any new dodge he may learn for improving his blooms he keeps selfishly and secretly to himself for fear his neighbor, learning the dodge, may be able to crow yet louder.

The second and smaller group amongst the professional amateurs are your gardeners par excellence. Not content with creating beauty themselves, they spread their knowledge far and wide that others may assist in bringing yet more beauty to the earth. They garden solely for the garden's sake and their own aesthetic joy.

I myself had once entertained vain ambitions to join this group; but a natural love of ease, a fatal impatience to achieve quick results, and my dear old friend asthma (who takes me by the throat and shakes the breath out of me if I so much as lay a finger on a spade) have forced me into the third, and last, and lowliest class of all - that of the amateur amateur gardener.

After all, if others of my household find great pleasure in pottering and pruning, in delving and weeding and grovelling in the loam, who am I to deny them the privilege?

When I conduct friends around "my" garden, proudly pointing to its triumphs, more proudly still making opportunities to drag in the seven botanical names I have by heart, and waxing lyric in my admiration, my friends look at me curiously and then remark:

"But, surely, with all your other work, you cannot find time for all this digging and so on?"

It is a very common example of untidy thinking, of mistaking admiration for mere pride in achievement.

I have greatly admired cathedrals before now; but so far I have made no serious effort to build one.

But it must not be thought that I abjure all physical effort. Only the day before yesterday I pulled up a dandelion. Next week I shall probably be busy pulling up the two other dandelions that will inevitably spring up in that place to avenge their brother. Dandelions are like that.

Herald, 16 December 1933

This prose piece was also published in:
Random Verse edited by Margaret Herron

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-05