The Jaded Garden Visitor

Bryans Ground, Herefordshire - a favourite garden
Bryans Ground, Herefordshire – a favourite garden

I have run out of enthusiasm for garden visiting, a sensation I am finding quite surprising.

Garden visiting is something I have done for some 6 years or more on a fairly regular basis. Until the last year I felt excited and enthusiastic about visiting a garden. It was like unwrapping a present on Christmas morning; that feeling of anticipation, wonder and curiosity. Now that feeling has gone and instead when a garden visit is suggested my emotions are of reluctance and a feeling of ‘do I really have to’. The only thing that got me to visit Sezincote a few months ago was meeting up with friends, Victoria and Michelle and I struggled to write about it on my blog. There has been one further garden visit since to a garden I had heard positive things about which left me completely cold and very disappointed, to the extent that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it on my blog.

The Laskett, Herefordshire - A garden I like but many don't
The Laskett, Herefordshire – A garden I like but many don’t

In fact I am wondering whether it is the blog which is to blame for this aberration. I know that a few years ago when I had press passes for various RHS shows in order to write posts for myself and also the Guardian blog, I found this completely destroyed my enjoyment of the show; I spent the whole time thinking about what I should write about rather than enjoying it. I am not aware of that sensation when I visit gardens but I am keenly aware that many readers seem to expect a critical review of a garden rather than a post saying you had a jolly nice time and really liked this plant or that.

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire - another good but traditional garden
Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire – another good but traditional garden

The garden media has been criticised in recent years, by myself included, of being dull, banal and not at all critical. There is also a movement which calls for gardens to be considered and reviewed as works of art which I think has some merit in it. Now I do not profess to be, nor do I want to be considered, a part of the whole garden media world so why should these arguments bother me and what and how I write about the gardens I visit? I suppose it comes down to peer pressure and a feeling that you want your writing to be taken seriously and not seen as yet another garden blog, saying I sowed these seeds and visited this lovely garden. But is that right? It comes back to that oft repeated question of why we blog in the first place. For me, my blog is a personal record, a weblog in the original sense of the meaning of ‘blog’. As such I try and write for myself and hope that readers like it, I don’t try to be clever or elitist but for some reason when it comes to garden visits it isn’t working.

RHS Rosemoor, Devon - interesting ideas
RHS Rosemoor, Devon – interesting ideas

I am deeply conscious when I write about a garden that there are some, often quite vocal, who criticise the ‘lovely’ approach. Consequently I have found myself driving home from a garden considering its design, planting, ethos etc not something I did a year ago. I agree that it is good to visit gardens to get inspiration and ideas but I do believe that this need to constantly analysis and criticise stops you enjoying a space for what it is – a garden: a place to relax, to be, to enjoy the outside and plants. What is wrong with that? If we go through life constantly analysing and dissecting everything to find some deeper meaning, which often isn’t there in the first place, we run the risk of missing out on so much more.

The Wave Garden, San Francisco - wonderful inspiring planting
The Wave Garden, San Francisco – wonderful inspiring planting

The last gardens I really enjoyed visiting where those in San Francisco and I think this is partly because they were, in the whole, very different to English gardens and also because of the company. But again despite enjoying them I have found it hard to write about them, feeling that I need to be erudite, considered, intellectual etc. I need to throw off this feeling and get back to my blogging roots. I also need to stop worrying about what others think, something that has plagued me throughout my life and that I have to work hard at since it has periodically caused me a lot of unhappiness.

So I doubt there will be many garden visit posts on the blog for a while, anyway they aren’t that popular with readers who, if the stats are to be believed, are more interested in day to day things in the garden. I am hanging up my garden visiting boots for a while with the hope that at some point in the future my interest and curiosity will return but this time if, and that is a big if, I write about the gardens there will be a good dose of ‘lovely’ and ‘beautiful’.

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32 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh Helen how I do identify with what you gave written. I’ve even been to gardens recently without my camera. I found I was thinking more about the best photo to take rather than just enjoy my visit. As for ‘lovely’ I found I was becoming paranoid about not using it as well as trying to find some negative points to make for a balanced review. Needless to say there are some lovely gardens that have nothing to dislike. Long live lovely and beautiful!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Ronnie
      So glad it isnt just me! I think it is easy to loose the real reason why we garden visit when we are blogging.

  2. Hi Helen – your blogpost is quite relevant to me as I’ve been writng a blog in my head for the last few weeks about the same topic and with similar outcomes. I’ve been thinking a lot about visiting gardens and garden design and though I haven’t got to the point of feeling jaded about visiting gardens, I have got to the point of thinking I just want to enjoy the gardens that I enjoy and not feel I need to be critical and write a carefully analysed blogpost about it.

    I guess when you write a blog, like a garden, it is public and therefore can be up for analysis by others. Therefore, you might feel some pressure to ‘perform’ and present your blog in a more ‘professional’ manner. I know I blog simply as a writting and photographic diary of how I’ve been gardening and my thoughts on gardening and growing. It’s a nice bonus if people like it. So as you say, it comes back to why you are writing your blog in the first place, and make that the basis of how you write, and how you enjoy the gardens you visit, rather than considering the response of your audience.

    Personally, I’ve enjoyed the variety of your blog posts, including the garden visit posts, but it is probably the personal ones about what you are doing in your garden that I enjoy the most. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Julieanne
      I have been struggling with the blog for a while and I have been through this sort of thing before when you get bogged down, feeling you have to blog and write something clever, entertaining etc but then I have to take a step back and regroup and remind myself, as you say, why you blog in the first place.

  3. Well said, Helen. See what you want to see, how you want to see it. Then write about it however you want to write about it. It’s your life, and your blog. Plus you need to get over this garden visiting malaise by the time I get over there. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      HiSusan
      Gee gads are you coming for a visit!!! Panic at responsibility of organising scintilating and entertaining programme!!

  4. Mary says:

    Hi Helen – your thoughts on garden visit blogging remind me of how I felt after completing my English degree. I enjoyed my studies, but for years I couldn’t read a book without making notes on what I was reading and thinking about the deeper meanings. I had quite lost the ability to simply enjoy a book. It sounds like you are going through something similar, but I am sure in time you will start to enjoy gardens in your own way again.

    I agree with Susan’s comments above, and look forward to reading more about your day-to-day activities in the garden ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Mary
      I was the same when I finished my degree in literature, I read trashy novels for ages but it felt strange not commenting on the language etc.

  5. I have to confess I love looking at your images but often don’t read the words. I go to visit gardens to have a good day out, steal ideas, and just because I am nosey about what other gardeners get up to.
    I blog because I like doing it and looking at other peoples blogs, it has opened my eyes to so much and helped in my textile practice, opened new vistas.
    If you don’t get anything out of it there is no point in doing it. Hopefully you will find your way back to enjoying gardens and blogging. Just do it for yourself

  6. Helen, Walt and I have friends in Leeds that keep inviting us. So far we haven’t found a good summer to go over there–but one of these days!

  7. pianolearner says:

    A great post!. I’m really interested in the psychology of blogging. I think you are right that the expectation to perform can take the fun out it. I guess it can also get competitive too. I’m lucky in that my stats are very low (my busiest day has only ever been 69) so i haven’t got that issue. I love it when people leave me comments, but I have a small group of those that do so, so i feel more connected to them. I read a great post by a book blog that i follow and she wrote about being “freshly pressed”. She had been trying to become so for some time, and afterwards she had a massive boost to her figures, but also a feeling of paralysis in what to say next. She said she had experience of many other blogs that never recovered from being freshly pressed.

    I Know what you mean about garden reviews. Its a shame to ruin the actual experience by analysing it rather than just ‘being there’. I think gardens are a bit too personal to be on the receiving end of heavy criticism. There’s nothing wrong with somewhere just being a lovely garden. I think that helpful advice about somewhere, such as ‘the tearoom only does very basic generic mass produced sarnies’ or the garden is very small so will only take your 20 minutes to see it all’ is good for readers, as it lets them plan ahead and not be disappointed. But stuff like ‘The juxtaposition of the blah against the blah is all wrong and ruins the flow’ is way too much for me. I don’t care about balance in a review. If someone liked most aspects of it then i’m happy to just read about the bits they liked!
    Hope you get the mojo back!

  8. Holleygarden says:

    I’ve heard the garden critics say that everyone should be a bit more critical of public gardens. But, if you truly believe gardens are a work of art, then what you FEEL as you’re in the garden should be the most important aspect, not what you THINK. Some like Monets, some like Picassos, but one doesn’t go around criticizing their brushstrokes. So, I hope when you do decide to visit gardens again, you will find them lovely and beautiful, and that you feel joyful, excited, passionate, (or even just apathetic, which to me would make a great post itself)!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi HG – I agree totally, your emotional reaction to a work of art, in whatever form it takes, should be the first thing you consider. Many artists, such as Rothko, strove to create an emotional reaction. I always have a problem writing about gardens I feel apathetic to since I appreciate that they matter to their owner and creator and who am I to criticise, in these cases I tend just to not say anything about them!

  9. Chas Spain says:

    Great post Helen and I like Holley G’s comment too.
    I don’t know if this story helps as a way of trying something new – I met a lovely(!) Italian scientist, Andrea Berardi, at a seminar at Open Uni who had been conducting geographic field research in Italy with about 40 volunteers. Each volunteer had to work on their own in an isolated location for about 4-6hours and record certain observations on a proforma under quite clear instructions. After a few days Andrea noticed that their proformas would come back with little doodles and drawings in the margins or randomly recorded words, thoughts, ideas or observations that didn’t fit into the proforma (‘church bells peeling in the valley..’) and sometimes whole poems and sketches. So he ripped up the proforma and just gave each volunteer blank books and tape recorders and cameras and asked them simply to respond to where they were (but only after sitting for an hour or so first.) What was collated were not dull statistics but rich collages about the place and the observers. More remarkable was that a number of volunteers started similar projects when they returned home to help connect people back to their own environments and communities.
    http://www.cands.org/Home/people/andrea-berardi
    I think we lose that ability to just be in a place and sense what is around us when we have a certain idea of how we should structure our response. It might not work for a garden writer but then maybe it might?

  10. Anna says:

    Oh Helen – I am sad reading this and do hope that your enthusiasm for garden visiting returns – I think that once there it’s always there. You have hinted that maybe it’s the blogging about such visits and your subsequent perception/anticipation of reader’s reactions that’s getting in the way of your enjoyment. I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head. I enjoy reading about other people’s garden visits and seeing their photos and so what if they include the word ‘lovely’! Never lose your own confidence in what you believe and write about what you see through your eyes. I have only managed one proper garden visit this year but am chomping at the bit to get out there and see other gardens big and small. It’s all part of the learning process providing marvellous opportunities to see fresh ideas, new to me plants and to come home buzzing with ideas. Hope that it’s not too long before you are sharing a garden visit again.

  11. fairegarden says:

    How right you are, Helen, on so many points. Any time we feel like we *have* to do something, especially writing, it takes the joy out of it for me, too. Buzzkill is the word I like to use to describe that. It is better to write for yourself, for your own pleasure, I believe. If someone else likes it, that’s great, but not the reason for the writing. Living our lives without thinking about writing about it, or taking photos seems the way to get the most of everything. I like taking photos, but often force myself to not run for the camera when that hummingbird appears to sup on the flowers, to simply enjoy the moment. It’s hard, but worth the effort. Just my two cents, here.
    xoxoxo
    Frances

  12. trilliam says:

    I agree with you completely. Focus on what’s good about a garden rather than what doesn’t work. Which plants or combinations were memorable in that garden? How could an effect be emulated in a smaller, home garden? What was surprising in the garden (e.g., plants growing out of their zone or plants not usually used for the purpose chosen in that garden? How did the gardener cope with problems (everyone has some!)?

  13. Yvonne Ryan says:

    How else would you describe the top photo as billowing and lovely! Just enjoy and relax in one of their chairs, ‘smell the roses’ and listen to the birds and bees. Enjoy your blog, especially this morning after days of low slung cloud, light and heavy rain and big storm. Nice to see a sunny English garden. Altho’ the San Fran interesting for our part of the world. Our aoleums (spelling) do as well as those!

  14. djdfr says:

    There is no obligation to add to the negativity in the world. ๐Ÿ™‚ In many areas there is criticism as if one person’s opinion was law or absolute truth. We need to encourage creativity rather than crush it.

  15. alison says:

    Helen, it’s very clear that your heartfelt blog about losing your enthusiasm for garden visiting has struck quite a cord with lots of your followers! I understand entirely your thoughts about your blog being your personal record and that you try to write it for yourself. This is exactly what you achieve when writing about your own garden where you write so clearly and honestly so maybe it’s not so much about not wanting to visit other gardens but more about the subsequent pressure you feel to write about it in, as you say, “an erudite, considered, intellectual” way. I don’t think you need worry about all that. Your blogs, whether about garden visits, your own garden (which I particularly enjoy) or your various hobbies, are very enjoyable and always interesting.

  16. Helen, I understand not wanting to write about them, but what if there were no implied writing assignment? Because we have so many blogger friends who visit the same gardens then eloquently post insightful, witty observations alongside perfectly captured and lighted photos (as you say), I always find myself wondering what I have to add. So I usually don’t try as there’s other things to post about. As to the gardens themselves, they can make mine feel a little “less than” immediately following the visit but I soon get over that. Other than these thoughts, I also wanted to say that there are plenty of us who simply want to hear from you about what you’ve been doing. It’s like the old snail mail. We like hearing from you.

  17. Diana Studer says:

    one more to stand up and be heard – I enjoy your writing. Write for you … that is what we are here to read. Your words.

  18. Janice says:

    I love reading your blog, especially when it’s about your own garden. I have to confess that when it is about a public garden you have gone to visit I mostly just look, and drool, over the pictures. Maybe it’s because I will most likely never visit these gardens myself, so just the pictures, for me, are enough. Please, don’t agonize over what you should or shouldn’t write, just write about what you enjoy.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Janice
      I did laugh as I do the same when I read other blogs, just skim the pictures of the garden they have visited. I think writing this blog post has helped me work through the issue

  19. Great post, photos, and a great garden!

  20. Cathy says:

    Well, you set your stall out in this post, Helen, and the punters have come flocking, so you know you are doing something right. You also know intuitively that if it’s not coming from the soul then you are letting yourself down, and YOUR needs are the most important ones to consider in terms of your blog.

  21. I read your post yesterday before there were comments and came back again to see what folks had to say. I had a strong reaction to your loss of enthusiasm for garden visiting and the thought that blogging might be part of the reason. For the past 18 months I’ve considered giving up my newspaper column because it takes so much out of me, which sounds crazy but is true. What keeps me tethered is my initial purposeโ€”to enrich and expand horticulture/gardening in my local community, plus the personal connections I make with readers. Frankly, Iโ€™m worn out with it and I donโ€™t want to do it anymore, but canโ€™t seem to give it up. I began blogging as an experiment to see if I could serve my purpose in a more flexible and less restrictive format where I have total control over content. Unfortunately, the answer is no; local readers did not (by and large) follow me to the blogosphere. I love the interaction of blogging and the freedom it allows, though, and will probably continue.

    Conversely, my enthusiasm for touring is still growing. I like to travel, and I like to share the experience of visiting gardens with others who enjoy the same things I do. And there is the crux of it. More and more, writing for publication feels like carrying a stone weight all by myself, and blogging and touring feel like sharing.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Marian
      I understand your feelings about the newspaper completely. I did a paid blog for a few years with two posts a week and the relief then it stopped was huge. I found I struggled to come up with the fresh content and ended up writing dull stuff which depressed me.

      Do you get much feedback from the newspaper since if you don’t and you prefer blogging then I would go in that direction. Strangely having written the blog post I have an itch to go get out and travel so maybe it was cathartic writing the post

  22. Michael says:

    Hey Helen,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I’ve just adored it. I’ve loved seeing all the the beautiful gardens that you’ve gone to, and reading your thoughts about them. I haven’t been posting very much this year, and at first I thought maybe it was because I haven’t been inspired by gardening and plants, then I realised that there was no way on earth that was the case as I’ve still be gardening and longing to garden when I can’t with renewed fervour. Then perhaps I thought it was due to being too busy with school and that I just didn’t have time, but now I’ve been on school holidays for two whole weeks, and barely a single peep on the blog, I’ve still been taking photos and gardening like there’s no tomorrow, and I’ve had ample time to blog about it, but I think this year I’ve had to take a bit of a break from blogging because although my blog is tiny, with a whole 30 something followers, it’s nothing to write home about, but I think perhaps what I’ve been doing is kind of keeping the wonder, and amazement all to me self. Kind of as if I’m preserving it, and keeping it private, as though I were a kid with a particularly delicious lolly that I don’t want anyone to have. Blogging started to become a bit of a chore, feeling as though I HAD to blog daily, weekly, or at least once a month, and I think it took a bit of perzaz out of the botanical world for me. I started wanting to do certain things in the garden because they’d be interesting to talk about on the blog, or avoiding other more subtle things as it wouldn’t make for interesting reading, and it was at this stage that I’ve done the cliche thing and looked at why I blog. Originally it was to keep a track of the gardening things I’ve been doing, and expressing the things that keep me eternally fascinated in the natural world. But now I’ve been keeping them inside, as if inflating myself with inspiration and passion again. I’m in my final year of highschool, and the assessment tasks have been deflating my ”ballon” like you’d never believe so perhaps that was what was doing it. But all I know is that taking a break, and not doing it if your don’t want to is a brilliant thing to do. I’m feeling more and more excited about gardening, and I’m starting to want to sing it from the rooftops again, but if there’s one thing that can always be known for certain, is that I am most undoubtably, a “beautiful” and “pretty” and “lovely” kind of person when it comes to gardens, why go looking for things that are wrong in a place when there is so much beauty to be rejoicing in. Now, who knows if this rabled, un-planned misshapen comment of mine makes any sense, but hopefully it does, or atleast expresses something of what I’m trying to get across… but if not oh well, it’s been fun and interesting wrambling on about gardening and blogging, and I most certainly hope you have a “lovely” and “beautiful” day/week/month/year.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Michael
      You do write well and I understood exactly what you are trying to say. Another way to look at blogging is as a way of connecting with other like minded people. I have made lots of real and virtual friends through my blog, and had some amazing opportunities because of it. if you want to connect with others you could try Blotanical. I wouldn’t worry about how often you blog or what about. I used to be paid to write a blog and I struggled like you with doing things in the garden just so I could photo it and blog about it. I will check out your blog as I really enjoyed your writing

  23. Anne Wareham says:

    Hi Helen – I wonder where all that pressure to be critical came from?

    I too read books for pleasure these days,after an English degree exposed me to the amazing depths which books, poems and plays offer. And the literature I studied has also stayed with me and enriched my life and I am very grateful I gave it that degree of attention.

    And anyone who has studied Lit Crit will know that being critical is about raising awareness of the good, the things you would miss with a cursory read for pleasure, as well as weaknesses. It enhances pleasure and increases perceptiveness. And sometimes sheer joy in the skill and something so aptly expressed – I’ve never forgotten Lydgate in Middlemarch accepting the burden of his wife.

    It may also make you/me/anyone more discriminating and more likely to chuck a book in the bin even without gracing it with analysis.

    I’d like (one day,maybe before I am dead) for some people to take gardens seriously and offer them that degree of attention and thought. I think (excuse the expression) they are worth it. Though not all and – not all the time.

    We don’t expect everyone to take an English degree, or write serious literary criticism if they write about a book they loved. But I don’t think we would suggest that we stopped people, or even discouraged them from studying literature? Or even joining a Book Club?

    I don’t know what it takes to create change, but I hope you don’t really regret my efforts in that direction or want me to give up. (though I often feel like it)

  24. Michael says:

    Hi Helen, I wasn’t sure how to reply directly to your comment, so I figured I’d write another one ๐Ÿ˜€

    I’m so glad you understood what I was aiming at, and I completely understand what you mean about connecting with likeminded people. I’m only 17 so people my age aren’t really the expected age demographic when you think about gardeners, so it can be a bit lonely at times because you don’t often have people to talk to about it, but you’re right, blogging does allow you to do that, and thank you so much for reminding me of that, it was an aspect that I’d completely forgotten because I’d gotten so used to it. It’s brilliant being able to talk to some one and say words like “Geranium”, or “espalier”, and many other things and have them either understand what you’re talking about, or at least know that it is gardening related instead of just watching their eyes glaze over and a confused expression appear in their face, hahaha

    I’m a part of Blotanical and I just love it, but sadly I haven’t been able to have much time to spend on that either, I’m lucky if I get to ready the occasional blog that I follow instead of just scrolling through quickly to look at the “lovely” pictures ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I hope you liked my blog if you got the time to pop in, I try to say something interesting if I can, but if not then atleast I sometimes include pretty pictures ๐Ÿ˜€

    Happy Growing ๐Ÿ˜€

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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