I wouldn’t usually go to Nietzsche expecting gardening advice. But rereading a bit of Human, All Too Human, I came across this quote, which chimes in unexpectedly closely with something I’ve been trying to say in the book:
An essential disadvantage which the cessation of the metaphysical outlook brings with it lies in the fact that the attention of the individual is too firmly fixed on his own brief span of life and receives no stronger impulse to work at the construction of enduring institutions intended to last for centuries; he wants to pluck the fruit himself from the tree he plants and he is therefore no longer interested in planting those trees which demand constant tending for a century and are intended to provide shade for long successions of generations.
The point I wanted to make is how impressed I have been by the people I have met while writing the book, who are planting and tending trees, hedges and gardens that will be at their prime many decades in the future. We do seem to live in a bit of a short-termist society, but luckily there are still people who take a longer view and are willing to create something that will live on beyond them. When I see something like the amazing topiaries of Levens Hall, the yew tunnels that are being recreated in one of the country house gardens I visited, or a beautiful hedge that has been continually tended for generations, I am increasingly aware of the debt I owe to people who are now long gone.
Of course there is a Chinese proverb that makes this point rather more succinctly than either me or Nietzsche:
The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.
The second best time, is today.