There is hardly a teacher who has not been a little irritated by George Bernard Shaw’s “those who can, do and those who can’t, teach” in his 1903 drama, ‘Man and Superman’. It has certainly lasted the years and the test of time and there may, I concede, be a certain grain of truth in it; maybe, even a large golden nugget of truth!
When Auguste Rodin searched for a model for his “The Thinker”, well, I wasn’t around at the time is my first explanation but I must also concede that I would never have been suited to the title. Between them then, if we are to believe them, I am one who is neither capable of doing nor of thinking.
What brings this up, you may ask or you may have already concluded that the heat has fried my brains – it is 27C (Edit: it hit 29 while I was writing!) at this moment which is why I am indoors in mid-afternoon and not out in the garden! What brought it up is a book I have dawdled my way though for the past few weeks – Philosophy for Gardeners, Ideas and paradoxes to ponder in the garden by Kate Collyns. The clue, of course, is in the title: this is a book for pondering, where one might read a chapter, leave the book aside, and continue to mull over the topic as one gardens and that is without a doubt the very best way to approach this book, in short sections with time to think.
The author trips gently through a range of philosophers and philosophies and relates each to a gardening situation which does serve to illustrate the thoughts in a practcal way and make them more accessible and understandable to this intellectual clodhopper though, I must confess, I found the thoughts didn’t occupy my mind for any great length – they weren’t going to pull any weeds for me, nor cut the grass nor make any of the chores of gardening any easier though they might have brought a different viewpoint, an alternate perspective or frame of reference but I have come to realise that I am not a thinking gardener, just a doing gardener, one with a mind in neutral, passing the time pleasanly, if not quite aimlessly.
There is much of interest in this book – the significance of the individual and the contribution of the individual in climate change, for example. Is composting the ultimate recycling? One needs to consider the value of the garden shed and how it relates to the philosophy of stoicism, mindfulness and hedonism – Diogenes! On one occasion, rain is welcome and considered good but not on another – an example of flexible and relative morality and the area of context in morality. We might consider weeds in a similar light and consider our own place in the hierarchy of organisms – are we really the top dogs or simply part of the system? There is the consideration of what we consider beautiful and whether this is governed by inate knowledge or something learned. And on and on it went through a multifarious variety of very interesting topics. I enjoyed it very much – let’s be clear about that! – but I found the philosophy of pragmatism was my best fit – just get on with it! And so, I went back to my gardening, educated and entertained in a philosophical way. I may dip in again once in a while to these interesting thoughs from Kate Collyns and I feel this is how she would imagine it would be as she is first and foremost an organic market gardener – the philosophy came later!
[Philosophy for Gardeners, Ideas and Paradoxes to ponder in the garden, Kate Collyns, Frances Lincoln, London, 2022, Hardback, 143 pages, £19.60, ISBN: 978-0-7112-6822-7]