Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Garden

Words by
Caitlin McAtomney
Images by
Daniel Shipp
| June 5, 2018

By my own admission, I am an aspirational gardener. And by that I don’t mean I seek social status via gardening, but rather that I aspire to one day actually be a gardener. A lifelong affinity with plants spurred by childhood backyards, books and camping trips has meant that plants are never far from my consciousness, interests or self-engineered surrounds. But as an adult my best intentions of building a harmonious, handsome and well-maintained home garden have never quite been realised. Why? Well, the reasons – or excuses – are many and varied. Most recently I blame living in a city rental property, on a budget, and having responsibility for a cute but demanding little person who absorbs almost all my spare time and energy. In short, I point the finger at the sabotage of domestic circumstance.

Ours is certainly the shabbiest front garden on a convivial cul-de-sac of charming Victorian weatherboard cottages. The dismay I feel about my inability to create and/or keep alive a garden beyond our easy-to-care-for indoor houseplants looms large. Writing articles for an online magazine about plants is nearly enough to precipitate in me a severe case of Imposter Syndrome. But no amount of self-flagellation has yet changed the fact that the garden I lust after is yet to be brought to fruition.

And so, to fill the chasm between yearning and reality, I have become the neighborhood garden voyeur – a veritable Peeping Tom of the plant world, always peering over other people’s fences, through their gates and down their driveways to catch glimpses of the type of botanical beauty I covet.”

It’s a striking feature of spending time with a young child that they are able to renew our enthusiasm for things that have grown dull, reawakening the charms of that which familiarity has made us overlook. Consequently, my garden appreciation skills are on point. These days I spend a lot of time walking the local streets pushing a pram, all the while becoming closely acquainted with the footpaths, dwellings, people, animals, plants, trees and gardens that populate our neighbourhood. My son and I frequent our favourite gardens and I take note of particular plants, adding them to the mental plant bank that I plan to withdraw from sometime in the future (when I become a gardener).

Vicarious garden ownership has its merits – it’s cheap, clean and commitment-free.”

However, it’s a poor substitute for the real thing … you don’t get earth under your fingernails; you don’t get the satisfaction of nurturing growth over time; you don’t get the fulfillment of creating a thing of aesthetic beauty; you don’t get the benefits of nourishing your family with home grown food; you don’t get the reward of a good night’s sleep after productive physical exertion in the fresh air.

From little things big things grow. I remain hopeful that I will make a gardener of myself yet. But for now, I’ll continue to surreptitiously pluck the forbidden flowers poking through my neighbours’ fence posts, breathe in their perfume and imagine myself as the owner of the splendid gardens from which they blossomed.


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