Anna Pavord: 'Beautiful, grounding and totally recession-proof, gardens offer a safe haven from a cruel world'

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The Independent Online

Perhaps you've turned to the gardening pages to get away from recession fever and banker phobia. Bad luck. But gardeners are surely in a fortunate position. The value of the patches we look out on every day – the real value I mean, not some notional price per square foot dreamed up by a wonky estate agent – doesn't zoom up and down because of events out of our control. Its pleasures don't diminish because the stock market is dropping like lead. The plant for which you paid £2.50 yesterday is still worth that today (in fact it is surely worth three times that – the cheapness of plants is one of life's great mysteries).

Only fools view their gardens in monetary terms, supposing that any amount spent on hard landscaping must automatically be grappled back in the asking price of their houses. The real point of a garden is to increase the value of our lives. It gives us a chance to fit back into a world that cities make us forget. A garden locks you into the slow, inevitable rolling out of the seasons, cycles of growth and decay, the lengthening of days and shortening of shadows.

A garden gives pleasure, instils calm, grafts patience into your soul. Gardening slows you down, puts worries in proportion. It teaches you to be observant. You become less inclined to leap to quick conclusions. Or to jump on the latest bandwagon. A garden hones your senses. You can hear the sound of dampness creaking through the soil and smell it hovering over the compost heap. In a garden, you never feel lonely.

Nor can you ever feel bored. Though constant in the sense that it is rooted in one particular place (and roots you with it – that is an important part of its power), it is deliciously inconstant in its particulars. The light falls on it and reflects from it in a different way every day. Breezes move through it from different directions. Trees provide different silhouettes at different times of the year. And from now on, the arrival and disappearance of seasonal plants happens almost faster than you can keep up with. And this is all free. You don't need wads of money to garden.

The best trick it plays, at this time of the year, is that you never quite remember how it's going to be, that first day you go outside and can stay outside all day fiddling about with jobs that aren't pressing enough to weigh heavily, but will nevertheless pay dividends. A garden is made up of thousands of small interventions; each one represents a choice, though you aren't thinking like that when you finally fetch the fork to heave out a bramble. It's just that the bramble has got to the point where it's more in your sight than not. And experience has taught you that if you don't hoik it out, a stem will drop, root and before you know it there will be a patch rather than a plant.

I had a great Saturday, the first warm day of the year, doing jobs like that – nothing too daunting. It was a day of reacquaintance, ambling about the place, fitting myself back into the plot. I could have spent the entire day carting mushroom compost up the bank to the bed where the cyclamen and eucomis grow. But though, in its way, this is a rewarding job, like feeding a family, it's also physically quite demanding. The bank is too steep to push barrowloads of mulch up to the border and I have to cart it up in buckets, which takes much longer.

So I larded that job with other quieter ones: 10 buckets followed by a session in the gravelled yard on the west side of the house, which is always a pleasing place to work, because it is so small. Iris lazica and Iris unguicularis grow there in rubble against the west wall; cleaning up a clump of I. lazica (darker blue flowers and brighter green leaves than I. unguicularis) absorbed more time than, at busier times of the gardening year, is available to give, but on this morning, it was a perfect limbering up exercise. Dead leaves pull off quite easily, half dead leaves have to be cut. General debris and snails need to be cleaned from the centre of the clump and more gravel to be added where I prised out some dandelions and unwanted evening primrose.

Your mind goes into delicious limbo when you are doing jobs such as this. They are undemanding, but in terms of improving the general look of things, very rewarding. Some of the time you may be thinking about the plant you are dealing with. For instance, why does Iris lazica, which is a native of scrub and woodland along the eastern end of the Black Sea coast, grow so well in this sunny, gravelled yard? Would it grow even better if I dug up a chunk and tucked it under the hazels on the bank? Why is I. lazica not scented when I. unguicularis is? In the wild, the two iris are separated only by 250 miles of bare, brown hill. If the point of the scent is to lure in insects, then the two iris must be pollinated in different ways. Why don't I know more about insects?

Then, after another 10 buckets of mulch, I go back to the courtyard because a Helleborus foetidus, now gone, has left behind a patch of sturdy seedlings. There's a big plant sale locally in May, in aid of the lifeboats. If I pot up the plants now, they would look quite saleable in three months' time. So I do, and as I'm setting them out by the cold frames, I remember the foxglove seedlings I potted up last autumn. There's a rough patch by the hammock house where they fitted comfortably against the holly and hawthorn hedge.

And so that happy day passed: more buckets of compost carted to the cyclamen bed, Viticella clematis and wisteria pruned and tied in, holly cut back where it was dropping too low over snowdrops, the last of the Paperwhite hyacinths carried out of the house, Rhododendron 'Fragrantissimum' carried in. A quiet day at Lake Woebegone. But each small act a defence (defiance even) against a world without anchors or safe harbours. Gardening: recession-proof, I'd say.

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