Hartley Magazine

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Stay home and keep gardening

A sun-soaked holiday taking in some of the world’s most beautiful gardens is a lovely idea, given the growing year we’ve had – but only until you join up your thinking.

I have waited long enough. I had hoped, given time, that some celebrated gardener would, during some queasy moment on deck, look out across the rollers and have a light bulb moment which bathed them in a deep green glow. I’ve kept my fingers crossed that a face from the TV, or a familiar dulcet warbler from our airwaves, would skip down the gangplank and start spreading the word. But so far my hopes, lashed by an all-consuming storm, have done nothing but sail splintering on to the rocks.

One of the great things about us gardeners is our insatiable curiosity (nosiness, if you like). We’re curious to know what other gardeners are up to, how they do it, and why. We’re keen to know how Josie Bloggs on the allotments grows her prizewinning parsnips, and to discover the planting secrets of our much-loved public gardens. We’ll take an innocent stroll down the street, eyeballs at full stretch, to see how the neighbours’ hanging baskets are doing. And we’ll happily travel tens, hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of miles to quench our horticultural curiosity. Gardening these days can be local or long-haul.

Curiosity afloat: us gardeners are a curious lot and will travel to the far side of the planet to visit gardens. But what appears to arouse less curiosity is how what belches from those shiny chimney’s has a profound effect on our gardening back home.

Among the copious ‘direct marketing’ (that’s junk mail to you and me) that falls out of the gardening magazines I get, one type in particular arouses my curiosity. It promises to show me the finest gardens in the world – all in the lap of utter luxury. Why settle for eyeballing next door’s patio pots when you could take a cruise to the far side of the earth and visit some of the world’s most beautiful gardens, with a celebrity gardener as your guide? Timing is everything: flogging sun in midwinter’s gloom, when we’d all perhaps like to escape ‘the weather’, is a sure-seller. Given the kind of headline-making weather we’ve had this year, I hazard the sun-sellers might soon be extending their marketing tendrils beyond this season of snow and ice.

But just as I’m daydreaming away into a world of luxury cabins, on-board gardens, manicures and stuffing myself silly, the weather brings me back to the shore of ecological reality. As 2012 takes its last gasp, almost all gardeners – professionals included – agree that this has been the worst growing year they’ve ever experienced. Amid all the optimistic chatter of ‘let’s hope it’s better next year’, I sense that on a few plots at least, the climate penny is finally dropping.

Cruise liners, whether they’re carrying gardeners or not, don’t do particularly well in environmental terms. Although their green credentials have improved in recent years, encouraged by ever-tighter regulations, they still score poorly: they produce vast amounts of domestic and food waste; once a certain distance from shore they spew out sewage, waste water and oily bilge; and they burn some of the dirtiest fuel oil there is, belching air pollution wherever they go. None of these outpourings is modest: the biggest cruise liner afloat can carry over 6,000 passengers – the entire population of a small town. And that’s just what the ship itself generates; if you’re cruising on the opposite side of the planet you will need to travel to an airport and then fly there, adding to your own long-haul gardening footprint.

Gardening holidays, especially the intercontinental ones, are perhaps the clearest example of how a love of gardening can collide painfully with concern about the threats facing the natural world (and, ultimately, ourselves). Much as I’m tempted to book a floating garden tour (and once might have done so without a second thought), I know that no matter how many swimming pools I had to choose from, I wouldn’t be able to take my eyes off the ship’s billowing chimney – images of which are curiously absent from brochures. Knowing that my ‘truly memorable’ getaway was contributing to yet another truly forgettable growing year back home just wouldn’t stack up, somehow – whatever the quality of the cabaret.

Who wouldn’t be tempted by a gardening cruise – some ships even have their own on-board gardens. But do the celebrity-led get-togethers tackle the tricky topic of the mushrooming ‘gardening footprint’ of those aboard?

I have no idea what celebrity gardeners bring to a gardening holiday, but they certainly have pulling power when it comes to marketing these jaunts. I can’t quite imagine them hosting a question time on the carbon footprint of cruising, or discussing how climate change is affecting the next garden on the itinerary (it might just have some passengers running for the lifeboats marked ‘denial’). So I’m guessing they deliver – expertly, of course – a horticultural version of light entertainment, carefully sidestepping the topics that gardeners really need to be talking about, such as what we can do to slow climate change – not just what to plant when it goes belly up. Doubtless they phone home and, being gardeners, can’t resist, from their climate-controlled cabins, getting an update on the weather. “Terrible. The worst anyone around here’s ever known…”

One of the saddest things is that celebrity gardeners who sail a high-carbon route are neutered whenever it comes to discussing almost anything connected with our environment; it’s hard to bemoan the impact of extreme weather on our plots if you’re helping to stoke the climate pot. Not only do they lose their voice, they miss an opportunity to engage with millions of folk who are already up close and personal with the natural world (that’s us gardeners, by the way).

So what might happen if a celebrity, perhaps after peering long and hard at a smoky ship’s stack, saw the green light and decided to hang up their sea legs? They could certainly trigger a more vigorous and fruitful discussion around climate change – not just how gardeners can cope with it, but what they can do to appease it. To prevent the situation worsening, we need to stop adding carbon to the atmosphere, because that makes it warmer, moister, more energetic and ever more unpredictable. That puts energy use at the top of the list – and that includes the energy we use in the garden, and the energy powering gardening holidays.

If you were a celebrity gardener, to declare that you had sailed your last cruise, and why, would be a great attention-grabber. It would certainly get your fans thinking and rouse their curiosity; they might even consider following your example and spend more time at home, gardening locally.

I wonder who will be the first to come ashore.

Text © John Walker. On-board garden image: Navin75