by James Alexander-Sinclair

I have been thinking about the pros and cons of vegetable gardening versus flower gardening. Some people are of the opinion that flowers are a waste of good productive space. That they are a frippery that should be sacrificed in order that we can grow more food. An interesting discussion about which I have strong views…

We have a saying over here: “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy” (which, incidentally is an Egyptian proverb first recorded in 2400BC) which is a pretty sensible maxim for not only life but gardens. In the latter case in can perhaps be adapted to “All veg and no flowers, sucks some of the poetry from Jack’s soul”. A tad clumsy but you know what I mean. 

Do gardens always have to be useful? It sometimes seems that to just enjoy your garden is not enough and you must also use it as a way to counteract the sins of the modern world. Carrots are not just grown for the pleasure of their earthy taste but to combat the evils of supermarkets. Men in sheds cannot grow competitive celeriac or seek after the perfect pair of plums without thinking first of carbon neutrality. I worry that there is danger that gardening may no longer be something that people do just for amusement but instead it has to be for much worthier reasons like reducing food miles or escaping from the noxious scatterings of assorted agri-chemicals.

Believe me; I am thoroughly in favour of growing our own food. I fully appreciate that there are few things more satisfying than to grow, pick and eat your own produce but nobody should be under any illusion that it is either particularly easy or terribly cheap. You need to expend a great deal of effort and a lot of time before you get even the simplest ratatouille. But it is also important to leave space to just enjoy the garden for no other reason apart from a straightforward appreciation of its beauty.  

I have to admit that virtually nothing that I grow in my garden is edible by anything other than the crowds of pillaging gastropods that, during the hours of darkness, descend upon the plants like an Assyrian horde. You could probably chew a rose petal or snack upon the odd Nasturtium but there is nothing here that will make you even slightly plump. There is a vegetable patch but that is the fiefdom of my wife, I concentrate purely on the decorative and mildly decadent. There is still hard work involved but the end result is designed merely to be gorgeous and give succour to the senses.

It is sadly true that you cannot live off the scent of roses or reduce the National Debt by lying on the grass staring into the canopies of trees. The plight of the starving cannot be eased by the flowering of even a trillion tulips nor can politicians be swayed by the ululations of ornamental grasses.  All the same we should take time luxuriate in the  glory of colour, shape and frivolous exuberance that make up our gardens. To walk down paths overspilt with billowing Geraniums, to sit under the shade of flowering cherries and to fritter away a warm afternoon upended and busy in a flower border. It is in experiences like this that pure, unalloyed and transient pleasure can be found. To extreme puritans it may seem wasteful and unacceptable to waste good growing ground on such things but the nourishment to be gained from a perfect poppy or an iridescent Iris should never be underestimated.

Of course the best thing is a happy compromise. To combine the healthy exercise and dietary satisfaction of growing your own vegetables with the pure pleasure of wallowing among flowers. That way Jack remains well fed in both mind and body.

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