The proliferation of gardening and garden writing awards has got me wondering whether we gardeners are an especially needy bunch. The diversity of form in these awards is vast, from the well-meaning chain letter to the tongue-in-cheek high-school popularity contest to the bright lights, big city variety. (And if you haven’t quite had enough, the Garden Writers Association 2010 Media Awards is now accepting entries). They perform similar functions: pushing forward a few individuals whose writing or photography is generally recognised as excellent.
And it’s not just gardening media but gardeners themselves, of course, who long for the rosette of recognition for their plot, whether that’s being named “Garden of the Year” by a magazine, growing a prize-winning leek or being chosen for the Yellow Book. (In case you don’t know it, the best private English and Welsh gardens are published in an annual volume and open up to the public a few days each year, with proceeds going to charity.)
I’ve concluded that gardeners are not extraordinarily needy, but we are driven to participate in so many awards by two major factors. First, like all other adults who have moved beyond school years, we no longer have regular assessments by knowledgeable teachers who can check and comment on our work. Is our work good? Have our skills matured enough that we can solely trust our own judgement on that? Whose judgement can we trust? In the absence of anything better, the awards become the bar, and the judges’ decision is final.
Second, with a few exceptions, gardeners and garden writers are largely isolated from each other, and awards serve as a kind of community-building exercise. Online communities like Gardenersclick.com and especially Blotanical, where unofficial awards abound, have tapped into this hunger among gardeners to find and connect with other likeminded gardeners and garden bloggers. Thinkingardens.co.uk, an arena for energetic garden criticism and analysis, to me seems to be in the same vein.
It is really only in arenas like these that kindred souls can be found. A US gardener in Maine wrote recently of her joy to discover that a septic tank problem was so serious it would require vast and expensive replacement work rather than, as she first thought, less-expensive repairs which would have destroyed a recently laid path. She received dozens of messages of support, and who but fellow gardeners could really understand this gardener’s logic?
The “awards” circulating on communities like Blotanical are simply a way for gardeners to further connect with and show their appreciation for their distant comrades. To me it’s a shame that so many of these awards take the form of a chain letter, though (“I give you this award, please nominate ten others who should also get it”), as this gives them a certain viral nature that can make honorees unwilling to pass it on, and lead to award fatigue like that described by The Galloping Gardener.
My own garden is a modest patch but I have seriously considered trying to qualify for Scotland’s Garden Scheme (our Yellow Book equivalent). On the surface that looks like I’m wanting a stamp of approval on my work, but really it’s just the company of other gardeners I crave.
Online communities are fine, but to have fellow fanatics stand in my garden would be wonderful. I have yet to meet anyone but Gordon the gardener (he cuts our grass) who will happily chat with me for ages about this self-seeder or that rose bush, pruning techniques, the usefulness of underground irrigation and so on. In the same vein, I joyfully submitted Stopwatch Gardener and my photography to a variety of awards schemes, if not genuinely expecting to win, then at least happy to be among “my people.”
I’ve realised that it’s not awards I really want, it’s company. It is ironic that gardening and garden writing — for me two quite solitary acts — aren’t fully satisfying unless I can share them with someone else who understands. And that means you, if you’re reading this. If those Rosa moyesii geranium seeds I planted last week eventually germinate, you’ll probably understand better than anyone who’s actually near me how much that means.
Thank you for reading.