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Follow your instincts in the garden

PUBLISHED: 17:00 26 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:33 20 February 2013

Follow your instincts in the garden

Follow your instincts in the garden

What is it that makes us all yearn for a garden of our own? Nicholas Newton has a few theories

What is it that makes us all yearn for a garden of our own? Nicholas Newton has a few theories

Januarysupposedly a time of resolutions preceded by a suitable period of reflection. The garden is still, quiet sleeping under a layer of unraked leaves, stripped bare of the finery and frippery of flowers and foliage, cut back to the bare bones. Reduced to this elemental level, theres an opportunity to consider why we garden in the first place, why do we make all this effort to create this contrived space around our homes? Im sure we would all claim to garden for different reasons. Some will want to create family play space, some just want to grow things, and others will simply want to create beautiful space. But despite all this apparent variation in motive, is there an underlying base instinct that drives us?
At the heart of the theories of the Swiss thinker and dreamer Carl Jung lies the belief that, reduced to their most primitive components, there exist universal stories in the sense that the human imagination is hard-wired (perhaps by evolution) to resonate to certain patterns, make certain links; that even at birth there are already some well-trodden paths in that part of our brain that as we grow and learn we will come to recognise as our imagination.
Each of us thinks this inner life is personal, private to ourselves, but in fact it will exhibit patterns we share with all peoples, all cultures, all ages. From it will arise standard stories and stereotypes that Jung suggests are best approached by examining folklore, childrens stories and recurring dreams. From them we extract the common threads that weave the narrative. Whether Red Riding Hood or Badgers Wild Wood in The Wind In The Willows, in all these tales, and many others, there seems to be an instinctive fear of the wild.

There is a very fine dividing line between the uplifting euphoria of the wild, and a fear inducing sense of desolation and loneliness often brought on by the screaming silence of true wilderness.

To understand it in depth we need to go back to basics, our fundamental connection with the land thats embedded into us not only from birth but also from our ancestral heritage. This is a heritage that started in the wild places. The vast majority of the population today has little contact with wilderness or wild places. Some would say that such places are hard to find these days, but theyre worth seeking out if for no other reason than to renew the acquaintance. When we do take the trouble to go there, it is likely that we will react in similar ways, for shelter, sanctuary and secrecy are the things we instinctively seek from the landscape. Many gardens have such places; it may take the child within us to find them for they can be elusive to our more world-weary adult eyes, but ultimately you will know when you find them.
Time alone in the wild can bring a clarity and intensity of detail that can bring a near euphoric state of being. But there is a very fine dividing line between the uplifting euphoria of the wild, and a fear inducing sense of desolation and loneliness often brought on by the screaming silence of true wilderness. The intense silence of the wild can strip us bare of rational thought and bring on an edgy nervous panic.
The Greek god Pan is not just the goat footed pixie piping away in the springtime, but a powerful and primitive god, representing the whole force of the wild and the inexorable weight of its silence. The full and proper sense of the word panic is described thus: Sounds heard by night on mountains or valleys were attributed to Pan and hence he was reputed to be the cause of any sudden groundless fear.
Could it be that we have a basic instinctive need to create sanctuary, defensible space, somewhere to look out from, somewhere familiar rather than unknown a tamed version of the wild places but on our own terms? So maybe these are real pointers to identifying the essence of gardening. Look again at the stripped bare version of your garden this January morning and consider whether this could be the basis for any garden changes this year. Jung would suggest you follow your instinct.

Nicholas Newton is a Registered Member of the Society of Garden Designers and may be contacted on 01728 638903 for further information or


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