In pursue of ease in our overloaded lives, it may happen we ditch the effort that could possibly make us happier. Did you ever consider that a no-maintenance garden may lack engagement, which is necessary for profound, spiritual joy? Here I describe a particularly memorable experience from one of our alpine hiking tours and a lesson it taught me. And why I think that working in your garden is essential to deep satisfaction.
Some years ago we were hiking in the late summer through Hohe Tauern in Austria. The route was taking us from Gleiwitzer Hütte (2176 m) through Gleiwitzer Höhenweg and Kempsenkopf (3090 m) to Fürthermoar Alm below Mooserboden reservoir.
The path, like most in the region, was expected to be straining but not very difficult. In dry conditions. But the night before was frosty and it snowed. With ice on rocks, unknown depth of snow in crevices, the exposure, and the awareness that a slip could be perilous, the endeavour got a life-threatening flavour. I am not over exaggerating—a seasoned hiker we’d met on a route who decided for a detour to Hoher Tenn had to be rescued from a mountain at night with a helicopter (whole and healthy just tired and cold).
But we’ve made it to the south side. As soon as we’d reached the gentle meadows below the rocky peak we put our rucksacks down, poured some tea and lied down on grass nibbling on chocolate. While enjoying wide views over the valley and a particularly bountiful patch of deep blue Aconitum napellus, I felt 100 % alive. The struggle and danger of the route made the simple lying on a grass all the sweeter, the views more beautiful and the colours more vibrant.
Safe on the sunny side, down the meadow via path bordered by heavenly blue aconites, to Mooserboden Stausee
By a cable car
A few days later we were finishing our journey in Innsbruck. We took the Nordkette cable car to Karwendel. It was pretty and nice. Nothing less, but nothing more. To experience the landscape fully, I needed to muscle through the obstacles, get dirt on my hands and fall hip-deep into snow between rocks. I had to get chilled to the bone and warmed up by the sun again. I needed to feel the rhythm of my breath and pulsing of blood in my arteries. The adventure, turns out, is a necessary condition for resting. The effortlessness given by a cable car detached me from the mountains and took away the depth of experience, the very one for which I go on a journey.
Easy, but not too easy
Naturally, we want things in our lives to be easy and satisfying. Gardens above all. We give our best at work, to our families, friends, dogs, sports and all other energy consuming aspects of our existence. A garden then is a place to rest, recover spiritually, and, for extraverts among us, entertain. Not a place of extra work. However, I will argue that a no-maintenance garden is also a low-satisfaction garden. Quite like ascending mountains by a cable car. The engagement is vital to the experience of a genuine connection. Through commitment is the garden truly yours.
The right balance
Contrary to what may seem from my words, for most of the time I spend in our garden, I will be just sipping coffee or chilling with a glass of beer, while enjoying buzzing of bees and chirping of grasshoppers. At other times, I will be sticking my nose into flowers, or just watching the light shining through leaves. We reduced a lawn to mow to the minimum, the planting takes care of itself for most of the year—so dense that weeds stand no chance. Nonetheless, there are days when I examine closely what needs to be edited. Days which I spent on knees with face between leaves and butt in the air, mumbling to the ground, sweating, breaking nails and getting scratches. Days when I get intimate with shrubs through choices what to prune, what to leave. I collect bugs and snails in a futile race to get to strawberries first. Or pull out raspberry suckers, which are as prolific as their fruits. In November chill, I stick bulbs into heavy, wet soil. Finally, there is the time for doing the late winter cleanup for the new of spring. And then, the coffee is all the sweeter and the beer all the testier.
How to achieve this balance? The line between too much burden and lack of connection is fuzzy and very individual. Engagement may take many forms and it shouldn’t feel as a chore. If you would like to find your sweet spot, don’t hesitate to book a chat. That’s what garden designers are for.