This isn’t one of those tests about how many hours you have to spend in the garden, if you have pets, kids, like to water, entertain, and so on. Rather than asking what kind of garden you want, I think it’s important to figure out first what kind of gardener you are.
I’ll start with a personal story. I adore potentialities, which in gardening terms mean seeds, seedlings, and growing things quickly and intensely. I have a greenhouse now to cater to this predilection, and it was a greenhouse where I first felt at peace at twenty, when I was hired by a herbalist to propagate plants. I puttered in the silence and became enraptured by small things—the miraculous rooting of cuttings, the emergence of true leaves, the beginnings of growth.
I’ve learned that I like rotation, change, harvests, and I live in climate that suits this: I can sow almost every month of the year. I’m a successionist you could say, a bit of a farmer at heart.
So what kind of gardener are you? For the sake of entertainment if not edification, let me characterize a few types:
The Designer: You’re good with form, abstraction, and spatial relationships. Perhaps you play an instrument, draw, or have a love of history. You believe that interior design should be reflected in the garden. Aesthetics inspire you. You’d choose to read a coffee table book over a seed catalogue. Your secret fear: using colour.
The Collector: You can’t turn an interesting plant down. If it was the 19th century, you’d have signed on to a botanical expedition. You appease yourself with collecting varieties of one genus or add to your stock by swapping with friends. No specialist catalogue is safe from browsing and you desperately try to avoid nurseries because every time you go you leave with fabulous new plants. Your mantra (hoping this incantation will magically transform you into a designer): Plant in threes, fives, or sevens.
The Cottage Gardener: When self-sown doesn’t mean you actually sowed it yourself, it’s good year. Surprise, abundance, perennials, colour—you can’t get enough (though you’ve been meaning to get more shrubs, right?). You view gardening as a process and are working on year-round colour. You’ve got a pair of gardening clogs by the back door. The words ‘trug’ and ‘dibbler’ have passed your lips.
The Brown Thumb: You spend an inordinate amount of time weeding. You under-plant and under-hire, wondering why, when you buy so many bloody plants, you still have so many gaps in your beds. You don’t research as you know you should, or tend to your soil, but when pressed you do care, you really do; your garden is a problem to be solved. Your downfall: Buying ill-adapted, discount plants at Costco.
The Ecologist: A rare species of gardener, you derive pleasure from an understanding of natural systems and your commitment to native plants. Patience, attention to detail, and integrity fuel your conviction. Birds help too. You don’t hear these words often enough so I’ll say them here: Thank you.
The Perfectionist: Let’s take stock of the arsenal first: Leaf-blower, check. Mini-rake, check. Weed-killers, maybe. Not afraid to buy annuals en masse for instant colour, the Perfectionist doesn’t mind repetition, and is quick to fill in space. You’re practical, and see hardscaping as an integral part of your garden. Your mantra: Fail to plan, plan to fail.
I think most of us have a bit of all of these gardeners within us. I over-commit and under-perform just as much as the next person, and I also fall prey to hope, under-hiring and collecting. Perfectionism I sorely lack.
Thinking about the kind of gardener you are can help you play to your strengths and turn your shortcomings into assets. Gardens are living things and they should grow and change as we do. So I should revise my question: What kind of gardener do you want to become?