Lending, tending, garden sharing
Done is better than perfect, by Joyce Veheary
Today’s newsletter is by Joyce Veheary - founder of garden sharing site, Lend and Tend. It’s a service that matches people who have gardens, which they are perhaps unable to care for, with people who would like to grow and garden but don’t have access to a garden of their own.
Joyce shares with us an open and honest look at garden sharing and her own evolving view of gardening and how ideas of perfectionism shows up for her.
Done is better than perfect, by Joyce Veheary
I started the garden-sharing project Lend and Tend when I was moving from one tenancy to the next. I was able to keep my fingers green, gardening in pots on bay window sills, on balconies, in portions of gardens, but I had to love and leave every small patch after too short a time. I spent years languishing on an allotment waiting list and moving meant re-registering on another borough’s waiting list.
I wanted to help others like me to share gardens, with the hope it would benefit both garden owners who need help and people who didn't have a garden who could share somebody else’s.
It’s simple to register online to find a “Patch-Match”, but when I started I was considered to have founded a new ‘tech platform’. I found this terrifying as a humble home gardener (I barely even Tweet). All I intended to do was create a space to help like minded people find each other.
So, it exists online and “garden sharing” is searchable like many matching services - Freecycle, even Tinder. But what comes with it is my fear that the site isn’t slick enough, fast enough or good enough. Sure enough, there are now other amazing services that have cropped up, ‘Adopte Ma Tomate’ in France and in Lithuania, ‘CoolŪkis’, but as the adage goes: comparison is the thief of joy.
So, why do I let it happen? My joy in gardening was the main reason I started this, but the worry of not being/doing enough permeates almost everything in my life and aims as a gardener, too. Sometimes, I’m not even sure if I can call myself a gardener?
Impostor syndrome is somewhat to blame. When I introduce myself, I immediately say “I'm not a trained gardener”. I have no formal qualifications, nor RHS merits. But I recognise this fear, in Lenders and Tenders, and it is often why gardens become overgrown.
For garden Lenders, it can be the heartbreak of a spouse passing away and not wanting to ruin or diminish what their loved one left behind and “mess it up”. There may of course be many reasons, like ill-health, but anyone with a garden will know, it can soon become unmanageable in the blink of an eye.
For the garden Tenders, who are likely to be the least experienced of gardeners, I recognise there are fears there too. Garden Tenders often tell me they’re worried they don’t know where or how to start, and don’t want to “mess up somebody's existing patch”. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. Then there’s procrastination and it can become too difficult to think about.
Garden-sharing can work with small goals and simple boundaries based on communication and respect where friendly agreements can be made. But, I realise more and more, the idea of perfection lives in all of us, particularly related to gardening.
What I can be confident about is that despite not having any formal gardening qualifications, I eat foods that I grow almost 12 months of the year. So I have to remind myself I am a legit gardener and I taught myself.
Where does my concept of perfection come from? When I take a walk in the woods, is it perfectly beautiful? Absolutely. Is there a landscape architect behind it, usually not.
It’s easy to dream when watching Monty potter through his acres of zoned gardens, I can get lost in garden magazines and fall down rabbit holes of garden inspiration pictures on Pinterest. It’s awe inspiring visiting country gardens like those of Sissinghurst, or The Newt, where I was fortunate to visit recently. It’s interesting to see how apple branches, extraordinary examples of espalier technique, are geometrically bent, curled and weighed down with rocks to continue a course of design intended by the head designer, but despite the beauty in the cold of January, I’m uncomfortable with clean lines, where there’s not a “weed” in sight. It can also not be overlooked, the money and resources such gardens have at their disposal.
What I have learned from my imperfect attempts at gardening, is that failure happens often, it’s a never-ending science project. You have to try new things and if they fail it can be a monastic task and time well spent doing something meditative, good for your mind.
The antithesis of neatness and gardening perfection is made visible to me anywhere that my mother has had her hands in the soil. My mum is of a time and place where nothing is wasted. Everything has value and if it really is rubbish, it has to be thoroughly cleaned and recycled. My mum is from the Philippines and I recognise in a lot of my close migrant family and friend’s cultures, materials are valued and often have 2nd, 3rd or 4th lives being useful as something else. I have to admit I’m ashamed about my past throwaway attitude.
I once had a garden for a short time. My mum had been house sitting for me, whilst I was on a work trip and after just a few weeks away I returned to a thriving garden…but growing through a rubble of skip findings.
I had previously tried my hardest to turn this into some sort of suburban oasis with fairy lights and matching deckchairs, whilst growing organic aubergines (which never actually fruited until my mum helped). My plan was based on an image of perfection that I had envisioned from magazines and TV shows, but this was not what I returned to. My garden looked ramshackle and annoyed by the ‘make-under’ I went about replacing all of the ‘junk’ with matching green bean poles made from bamboo sticks of the same uniform height.
My mum also suffers from chronic pain, but on her ‘good days’, when the sun is shining, she says gardening beats any pill. She’s a sorceress, she spits out a pip and something will grow. However, if left to her own devices there would be old Hoover pipes found propping up gourds, broken umbrella spokes fashioned into recycled leaf shades, something I would call a ‘mess’. But really? Matching beanpoles? I feel so guilty that I’ve doubted her talents, spoiled an iota of her joy and was blind to her resourcefulness.
My mum is actually a really productive gardener and she doesn't care about it looking perfect like a ‘made over garden’ from the TV. All she cares about is picking her sweet-pea flowers and listening to the thrum of bees pollinating the courgette flowers. In her honest approach to gardening, my mum is probably the most “perfect” gardener. She does things to please herself and gets immense joy out of it. Mum doesn't know she's an activist but she definitely is one. So in a note to oneself, in my pursuit of perfectionism in gardening, I need to be less like Monty and more like mum.
I must remember that there are lessons to be learned and joy to be found in failures, and the mess… Perfectionism is usually just in my head.
Joyce Veheary grew up in London and founded the garden-sharing initiative, Lend and Tend, which has registered 1000+ registered garden-sharers since 2015. When she’s not gardening she’s an actor, facilitator and is about to take up beekeeping this year.
Joyce is being paid for this article.
Photo credits: Joyce Veheary