BEYOND the male domain of the backyard shed, the garden can also be a place demarcated along gender lines. Quite a few couples I know have ‘his and hers’ garden beds, enabling each to create their version of outdoor splendour without compromise.
“Gardening together is as bad as cooking together,” says one friend. Too many gardeners, it seems, is akin to too many cooks. “It’s like a blank canvas ,” says another friend, “You wouldn’t ask your husband to pick up a brush and add to your painting.”
Although a broad generalisation, I find women’s gardens tend to take shape organically, without much pre-planning or design. They extend as the need arises, and are apt to change their look according to tastes and desires. Almost always a woman’s garden includes herbs and flowers, which tumble and clump around each other in perfect chaotic harmony.
Men tend more towards symmetry and structure, and are often focused on the construction or manipulation of natural terrain through lakes, retaining walls, paths, arbours, water features, ponds, rolling lawns, enormous garden beds and statues. Less tolerant of weeds and ‘mess,’ men love a good mower and a sense of order and functionality.
I started thinking about this after a recent guided tour of my father’s long-awaited retirement veggie patch. To get there, you have to walk through my mother’s. Growing up, the veggie patch was always her domain. In various ad hoc beds or mixed with the ornamentals you could always forage enough leafy greens and seasonal produce for a delicious meal. The current patch is sandwiched between the bananas, fig tree and compost. It started opportunistically with one experimental bed, and expanded to a smattering of others shored up with rocks or logs, and fortified with bird netting on sticks. It is simple, beautiful and productive.
Down the path, however, you will find a new edible garden of an entirely different nature. Last time I visited, it was still a construction site, a bobcat scooping out a hillside into a tennis court sized terrace and pouring rocks into metre-thick wire cage on two sides to create an imposing Gabion wall. A few months on and raised garden beds the size of pools have been planted with edible and ornamentals, some already ripe for the picking; dwarf peach, nectarine and apricot; tomatoes surrounded by colourful rainbow chard; berries; magnolias and flowering plum for colour, with parts of the wall obscured by grapes and wisteria.
Climbing the top of the wall I get a better view of the centrepiece, a curved tiled bed and water feature that, in time, will be a sandstone edged Japanese garden of sculpted cloud trees (Lorapetalum), clipped kirin azaleas, sacred bamboo, maples and tufted grasses poking up through fine raked gravel. Although still raw, it truly is a grand design that will be both spectacular and delicious, a perfect complement to the modest creation on the other side of the gate.