I volunteer as part of the Rose and Hardy Team at Kew Botanic Gardens. It’s a mixed relationship I have with this region of horticulture – I’ve never been a fan of formal planting, and I find the parterre a mixture of bemusing, hideous and ridiculous, with a kind of nuclear radiance to it. The order, control and tightness of the planting and upkeep required, along with the inevitable continual need to sterilise the beds because of weeds, are not my kind of gardening, but … there are always things to learn:
1. most of the other gardeners who work on the team (Kew students, interns and volunteers) don’t like formal gardening, and don’t really like doing the parterre.
2. this kind of garden design and maintenance has a very heavy reliance on labour: without the students and volunteers at Kew, it’s completely unsustainable – a curious loop there.
3. visitors to the parterre seem to find the sight of many workers bending over the beds very relaxing and they enjoy convivial jokes about the effort and labour required: to watch others (in uniform) controlling and organising nature is satisfying and comforting, a relief in relation to ‘the wilderness out there’.
In August, one volunteering morning, my job was to go around the whole parterre removing the ‘balls’ on the Barbed Wire plant Calocephalus, because the flowers were yellow and didn’t fit with the colour scheme of the planting of silver, green, pink, white: the soft silver grey flower ‘balls’ burst into bright yellow – they had to go . I finished the morning bewildered, plant cellulose thick under my fingernails:
1. if I were to die now, I would definitely regret the last three hours spent
2. what on earth am i helping to support? – i’m sustaining something i completely don’t believe in.
3. it was strangely satisfying