Article - Gardens

A few days ago, my wife and I, alongside a steady trickle of other people, were visiting a West Dorset garden that was open under one of these splendid schemes that provide so much pleasure to so many by enabling us to wander round a patch of earth that has been lovingly tended by its owners.

For my wife, who is a fanatically keen gardener these visits provide a thousand opportunities to spot the unusual and the brilliant amidst the plantsmanship of the particular garden in question. Her practiced eye alights on tiny treasures with special delight. For me, devoid of any horticultural knowledge, it is the shapes and the colours, the play of light and shade, the sense and the peacefulness that constitute the joy of it. I suspect that there are many others lying at each end of this spectrum between knowledge and ignorance and at many points between - all taking an equal pleasure in the scene.

I reflected as I perambulated on the fact that we seriously underestimate the importance of our gardens in West Dorset. We are, of course, blessed not only with some of the greatest architecture in Europe (Sherborne Abbey to name just one example), but also, in places like Forde Abbey and Mapperton, with some of Europe's most beautiful gardens.

But it is not just these masterpieces that we should celebrate. Encrusted in the byways of our towns and villages, there are literally thousands of horticultural jewels of varying sizes from the large to the extremely tiny. A significant proportion of the entire population of West Dorset is in fact engaged in the creation and re-creation of these wonderful things year in, year out.

I wonder how many of those engaged in this creative act would recognise the description of themselves as artists? And yet, that is exactly what they are.

Through the National Garden Scheme and the multitude of local schemes and societies that surround it, there is provision for these works of art to be shown to a wider public. And there is no doubt at all that gardening, together with the considerable manufacturing, retailing and service industries that support it, provides not only a major contribution to our local economy but also a common interest that binds people together and builds social capital. So the effect of our gardens - whether regarded from an aesthetic, an economic, a social or indeed a psychotherapeutic point of view is widespread and profound.

What is more, the gardens of England contribute collossally both to the reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions and to other hugely important aspects of ecology such as the promotion of biodiversity and the slowing down of the water cycle. Without our gardens we would live in a world that is less beautiful, less prosperous, less harmonious, less well balanced, more prone to climate change, less biodiverse and more exposed to flooding. Quite a list of things that matter.