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Gardening - a passport to contentment and well-being

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I like people who like their gardens.Even if the result of their love and attention would send any self-respecting landscape architect into apoplexy, these people are calm, collected and seemingly content.For them, it is a retreat from all that might trouble the mind. I am not talking about the small urban and suburban offering - although the same approach can extend to the larger areas.Two men I know in Norfolk have transformed a 12-acre field into an extraordinary amalgam of gardens.The Italian garden, desert garden, terraces, vistas, wild patches, etc. , are evidence of an almost manic obsession with transformation.Both men gave up their jobs in the City and devoted themselves to the creation of Eden, and it is hard to believe that the garden was only established 14 years ago.

On a smaller scale, a walk past a succession of front gardens or a train ride past back gardens tells you a lot about how happy people are. The rise of the garden centre has encouraged those who indulge.We have suffered from an excess of Leylandii trees and the odd riot of colour, but they have worked very well, especially when compared with the disastrous effects of DIY warehouses which have destroyed any sense of taste, quality or regional vernacular.

Some urban gardens have been turned into off-street parking.People like to observe their car from their sitting room.Evenings are spent glancing between the TV and the 'motor', an activity that is washed down with a few cans of beer.There is little joy in this household.

Other gardens are gravelled and surrounded by railings.The path is studded with stepping stones so that the man returning late from the office (pub) does not disturb 'her indoors'by crunching the gravel.These are called low maintenance gardens and give no joy either to the owner or the passer-by.

Gardens are a symptom of the well-being of a community. In the UK, the quality of gardens suggests that homeowners are more contented than tenants. This is probably true, not because of the fact of ownership, but because many tenants live on meagre salaries which don't allow for the apparent luxury of horticulture.Gardening, it could be argued, is a necessity.There is a relationship between good health, mental well-being and digging the earth. Keen gardeners, on average, enjoy 10-15 per cent greater longevity and tend to be free from many of the nasty diseases that beset the elderly.

However, gardening suffers from a bad image among the young. It is not seen as cool.

If we are to combine the fruits of gardening with a lower National Health spend on the elderly and lower expenditure on some elements of the social security budget, we must find a way of incorporating gardening opportunities into our buildings. At present, gardens are connected to the home.Why?

With a greater overlap between working and leisure hours, the workplace must incorporate elements of 'normal' life. Hands-on gardens would improve the horrible laddish behaviour of all those oversized firms of accountants.How do we create gardens in high-rise buildings? Perhaps we have to think of these buildings like a coiled-up street. A spiral of front gardens and front doors.

Why are municipal parks only tended by municipal gardeners? Surely a park such as Burgess Park in Southwark would be more interesting if keen local amateurs took ownership of individual plots. I hope we have the ability to go beyond the plethora of TV garden makeover programmes to an environment that we can learn from and enjoy, by simply walking about.

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