The Year of Gardening Vicariously

— by Alexia Economou



Photos: Floret Farms

This spring, the global pandemic prompted record numbers of people to plant for the first time. Whether it was the fear of global food shortages or to stave off lockdown boredom, most were grateful to be able to stick their hands in the dirt instead of their heads in the sand. Emma Beddington, writing for the Observer Life & Style section last week said, ‘It’s a bad time to admit that you are terrible at gardening… [it] feels like a moral failing.’ I share her pain. As someone who had two very green-thumbed parents, these genes have skipped a generation. I have great awe and respect for those who can, because it takes a lot of time, effort and willingness to grow a fabulous garden. Instead, I’ve channeled my joy into gardening vicariously – and I am clearly not alone.

Like the explosion of gorgeously styled food photos and all things gastronomic during the #foodporn trend, gardening is having a similar moment. At the time of writing this (in my garden-less apartment), as the aforementioned flowers and vegetables of other gardeners have reached full bounty, there were close to 75 million photos tagged with either #garden or #gardening on Instagram.

Monty Don’s Longmeadow

According to Emma Beddington, clicking on Instagram may be like, ‘entering a National Trust garden but without [paying] the £15 entrance charge or the scones,’ but I argue, without vicarious gardeners, the National Trust would lose their core customer base. They need us non-gardeners to purchase their spoils, praise their efforts and make them feel (secretly) smug in their life-sustaining talent. Surely this is why the British public rallied to raise £3.5 million in just 10 weeks for the ArtFund who saved Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage. Vicarious gardeners of the future, rejoice. In the meantime, check out the lovely Derek Jarman exhibition at the Garden Museum in London, with a collection of art work and artefacts, photographs by Howard Sooley and a Prospect Cottage installation complete with pebbles.

Along with the record-breaking 2.7 million viewer’s of BBC2’s Gardener’s World this spring, I have been re-watching Monty Don’s global garden shows all summer. Or losing myself in luscious coffee table books on gardening like those by flower farmer Erin Benzakein of Floret Farms. Her debut book, The Cut Flower Garden, is a step-by-step planner for anyone wanting to grow their own – especially good for those with limited space. While the first 45 pages are a great how-to: from planning your plot, to seeds 101, and all the timings and tools described in detail for those just starting out; it is the rest of the book which has me escaping into a fantasy of seasonal blooms. Each of the four seasons’ flowers have a dedicated section, and as I peruse the titillating photographs, I escape my ineptitude and visualise myself as a prolific gardener. I am transported off my sofa, into a land where the air is free of viruses, yet wafting of peonies and phlox, without the stress of actually having to keep something else alive.

Erin Benzakein

On the back of the success of The Cut Flower Garden, its sequel, A Year in Flowers – arranging the beautiful cut flowers that you may, or may not, have grown – made the New York Times’ Bestseller list this year. And a third book, dedicated to Dahlias, will be out next year. Monty Don is also releasing a book next week: My Garden World: the natural year charting Our Monty’s gardening journey through the natural year, month by month, season by season – and is a culmination of over 60 years worth of his notes and journals.


Floret Farms

Not one to miss a good nesting trend, Martha Stewart, has developed a new television series, called Martha Knows Best. The episodes feature Martha on her stunning 150+ acre farm in Westchester County, New York. As the camera pans across her gorgeously manicured lawns and happily frolicking guard geese, Martha dispenses tips on how to plant a border and why you should choose co-ordinated stone, concrete and marble planting pots. Celebrity friends like comedian Jay Leno and rapper Snoop Dogg call in for starter advice – like how to re-pot plants – and she surprises ‘real people’ by answering their planting dilemmas via video-chat. Perfect TV fare for the armchair gardener.


Super Nature at the Garden Museum. You can book in for a Flower Pressing Workshop with TNMA friend JamJar Flowers.


Back in the UK, there’s still time for vicarious gardeners to see the Nick Knight Roses From My Garden photography exhibition at Waddeston Manor. In Chichester, Pallant House has a show celebrating the natural world called Drawn to Nature and London’s first fair for art inspired by plants: Super Nature will be held at the Garden Museum from 9 – 11 Oct 2020. Visitors to Super Nature will be able to see beautiful artworks celebrating the joy of plants, flowers and gardens, and also have the chance to create art inspired by nature themselves, in flower-pressing and abstract floral painting workshops hosted by the exhibiting artists. Tickets cost £5 and advance booking is essential.

So, if like me, your joy is to kick-back and peruse, this is the year of gardening vicariously. Hop on board this trend from the convenience of your sofa, on your daily outings, or by photographing your community’s efforts.



Alexia Economou is a design and culture journalist, and regular TNMA contributor @thedesignfeedTW

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