This is not about gardening

Categories Art thoughts, Big Thinking, Blog

When we moved into our house 13 years ago, the garden was so neglected that I thought I’d have to dig up the lawn just to have a few flowers. Then I started cutting back the hedge and discovered to my surprise that I already had large flowerbeds. They were just completely hidden by a ridiculously overgrown hedge and swathes of ivy, brambles and ground elder.

Garden before
Kirsty Hall: Garden after the hedge butchery but still full of brambles & ivy, May 2003

If I wanted to reclaim my flowerbeds, I had to get serious.

One of the first things I did in my garden was to completely remove three enormous leylandii trees that were shading the entire space. It was obvious that nothing very interesting would grow in such deep shade. Most flowers and vegetables need light.

Your art or business is the same. You’ve got to make space in your life for Your Wonderful Thing or nothing will grow.

If your life is full of crap, there will be no room for Your Wonderful Thing. It will be strangled to death by other people’s needs and shaded out by all those sneers and subtle little put-downs.

You’ve got to clear the ground. Get rid of that clinging, stifling ivy and those spreading brambles.

Oh, you know what I’m talking about. That friend who’s oh-so-entertaining but only talks about their stuff and is mysteriously absent when you need help. That family member who pours scorn on Your Wonderful Thing and tells you to Get A Real Job. That clinging person who just won’t let go and insinuates herself into every space in your life.

Sometimes those people can be contained. There is still ivy in my garden – it’s good for wildlife & I am happy to have it on walls, trees and in the hedges – but when it starts to rampage through the flowerbeds, I know I have to pull it up or it will smother everything else.

Some people need firm boundaries or they’ll choke out Your Wonderful Thing. They won’t even mean to but they will, so you need to protect your flowerbeds. Arrange to have a pressing appointment so you can cut short that person who goes on too long. Graciously go into a conversation with that self-absorbed friend accepting that you’ll be in listening mode for an hour. Phone a different friend when you need help.

Garden after
Kirsty Hall: New shrubbery and path, May 2009

Unfortunately there are some people and situations that you simply cannot afford in your life. Not if you’re committed to Your Wonderful Thing.

After three years of pulling up ground elder, I finally realised that all I was doing was spreading the damn stuff around. It is virulent as all hell and will spread from the tiniest bit of root that’s left in the ground. And it makes a lot of roots. I’m not quite sure what the Romans were thinking when they introduced it to Britain. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Eventually I guiltily resorted to weed killer and I’m now ground elder free. Similarly I have at least one person that I cannot let back into my life even the tiniest amount because they absolutely will not accept boundaries.

I’ve dropped friends who were such drama queens that they sucked the life out of me. Sometimes I’ve been the person who’s been dropped. It is Not Fun to be on either side of that situation but sometimes it’s needful.

If boundaries won’t work & they’re killing Your Wonderful Thing, well, you have a hard choice to make.

Do you want flowers or not?

I am an artist & purveyor of obsessive projects based in Hebden Bridge, England. My work involves the accretion of large numbers of small objects - pins in fabric, knots in string or hundreds of envelopes - to make sculptures that deal with fragility, loss, repetition, obsession and time.

17 thoughts on “This is not about gardening

  1. …and the thing you’re cutting back is often part of the garden, but no longer/never really did work.


    Kirsty Reply:

    @Leela, Exactly Leela, sometimes we try so hard to make things work when it should be obvious that a relationship or a project is beyond saving.


  2. I’ve recently been evaluating my life with a similar goal in mind – what is positive and productive and inspiring stays, what is negative and wasteful and discouraging goes. Thank you for explaining this concept so eloquently – your garden illustrates the theme perfectly!


    Kirsty Reply:

    @Kris, Thanks Kris, it is hard to consider this stuff but it can free up so much creative energy and lead to new shoots growing.


  3. This resonated for me Kirsty and made me feel better about cutting out some deadwood!


    Kirsty Reply:

    @Julie Shackson, I’m glad it resonated, Julie. I was worried that it might be too harsh but from my experience, if you want to be an artist, then art has to be in the centre of your life.


  4. “evergreen hedges with thick foliage such as Leylandii, can filter out up to 30% of atmospheric pollution. ” (from the first Google result on Leylandii trees)…
    Cutting down trees to put up flowers is an interesting choice…Using weed killer is another…Where I live, getting anything green to grow is a challenge-such a different perspective here…
    Cypress family trees can be pruned…It is more work than killing them though…
    Here in Toronto, it is tall buildings that steal sunshine…Our anger is more tuned to that insidious growth…
    Your metaphor is one way of looking at things…But sometimes, the marsh, the swamp, the messy forest garden you have been given need not be changed…A rotting tree is a happy home for many an endangered bird species…When a church in Chile stopped using palm fronds for Palm Sunday, they saved an entire species of parrot…
    I get what you are saying about getting rid of people who don’t work anymore…But sometimes people & things need to be left alone, & in the longer term, may bring unexpected gifts…
    The untended swamp may bring a Trumpeter Swan…The untended garden, or untended friend list, may bring the joy of tolerance as a new character trait…
    That kooky, long haired, talks too much, smells like oil paint friend might be me…Please don’t cut me down…


    Kirsty Reply:

    @Sari Grove, Sari, I also understand what you’re saying but if you could see my very messy, almost entirely organic garden, you might reconsider. Believe me, it’s nowhere near as tidy as that second photo makes it look (that was taken just after that work was done, it’s a lot more ‘relaxed’ now).

    I’ve used weedkiller approximately twice in the last 13 years. The leylandii that we removed were 40 foot tall and way past being a hedge and were casting shade over the entire garden so that I couldn’t grow anything. We had very little bird & insect life because there were very few pollen bearing plants. I also had mature trees and hedges around the entire garden, including holly, bays, birch and beech, which of course I kept.

    Even though it’s more productive and varied now, the garden deliberately contains piles of decaying wood & abandoned corners and I grow a variety of plants for wildlife and I’m on a constant mission to grow more.

    You also don’t know my friends. Most of them are mad as biscuits and complete misfits. And yes, many of them have long hair, including my husband. And my kid!

    People have to overstep my boundaries repeatedly and in very toxic ways before I drop them. I’m not saying that you should automatically get rid of difficult people, I’m saying that sometimes those people will strongly interfere with your art.


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