My garden's usually manageable hollyhocks are this spring so freakishly soaringly tall they are a danger to aviation. My normally only single-flower-headed artichokes are suddenly become herbaceous gargoyle hydras, each bristling with nine ugly flower heads.
Is the angst our garden's new freakishness is causing us some of this much-reported climate-crisis-driven phenomenon of "eco-anxiety"? Yes, it is.
On to eco-anxiety in just a minute, during which time my skyscraping hollyhocks will inch even menacingly higher and my artichokes will spawn even more grotesque heads.
But first, to set the scene, the declaration that your columnist is a passionate gardener. Even as I type this essay I notice my twinkling fingernails are begrimed by my morning's work with my garden's worm-infested muck.
Yes I'm a gardener, but have always been at odds with the way in which gardening is always sentimentally imagined to be a therapeutic, joy-bestowing and soul-massaging activity. Gardening writers and broadcasters (ABC TV's bedraggled Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis is the worst offender of all) gush about gardens and gardening in the same "Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!" spirit in which pentecostal Christians go into raptures about Jesus.
For me gardening is deeper, darker, more intense, more Shakespearean than this. True gardening is suspenseful and intellectually demanding. Our gardens are matters (literally) of life and death, and (for flowers are sex organs) of raw, explicit, ruthless sexuality.
Gardening's excitements (of which there are millions) are not things to get gushy and pentecostal about but are nuanced, like the unfathomable pleasures given to cultured people (such as this columnist) by opera, ballet, and paintings at their excellent and lustrous best.
It is because I believe gardens and gardening, properly understood, should give as much anxiety as rapture that I'm drawn to London professional gardener Henry Wismayer's new online piece, "I can't escape my eco-anxiety".
As the piece's title explains, Wismayer fancies that he sees portents of climate-altering doom in gardens' strange new behaviours.
"Any gardener," he suggests, "will tell you that one of the great pleasures of the pursuit, whether amateur or professional, is the sense of connection it engenders between you and the seasons. Stewarding a patch of ground from spring to winter and back again plugs you into something ineluctable and constant."
"At least, that is how it used to feel. [Now] the drumbeat of alarm around climate change has begun to shake the foundations of this happy psychological refuge. The meteorological cues which dictate the behaviour of our garden plants and wildlife have gone haywire. The energy that plants expend on negotiating weather patterns for which they haven't evolved is making them more vulnerable to blights and tempests. There are fewer insects, meaning less pollination. There is, too, just a general tenor of capriciousness - the sense that conditions are less hospitable, more violent, and incrementally less predictable. The rain falls in torrential bursts. The summer sun feels that bit too harsh."
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"What is difficult/less easy to process, however, is the impact this horticultural uncertainty might be having on our wellbeing. It is increasingly clear that the kind of discourse we have seen around COP26 in Glasgow is precipitating an epidemic of what's being called 'eco-anxiety', especially among the young. That this anxiety is prompting me and others to draw alarming extrapolations upon witnessing the struggles going on in our herbaceous borders reveals something profound about the impact of climate change ... the proximate emotional cost."
Surely observant, sensitive Canberra gardeners, as much as observant London ones, notice this same capriciousness (these same torrents, these harsh summer suns).
For example, plant labels continue to recommend plants be given "full sun", when what was a balmy, bearable-for-plants Australian full sun when these labels were composed is now a blistering, plant-withering horror. The Australian summer sun is a monster now.
As an example of something to be eco-anxious about (whether rationally or irrationally) one notices even as I write the way in which my own city, Canberra, the federal capital city of Australia, has had its appearance transformed by unusual winter warmth and then unusually monsoonesque winter and spring rains.
Suddenly the hollyhocks are scraping the sky. There is a sub-tropical lushness everywhere, with even our so-called "dry sclerophyll" woodlands drippingly wet and suddenly expressing their hitherto suppressed inner jungles. The bush capital is, at the time of writing, aspiring to be the jungle capital. No wonder we are eco-anxious.
What is happening? What is to become of us?
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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