I was raking over a veg bed one bright winter’s morning this week when a passing dog walker called over “looks like you’d be handy in the house with a broom”. I laughed, exchanged pleasantries about the weather, then carried on with the task. The remark reminded me of a discussion on Gardner’s Question time earlier this year when a woman asked the panel of experts to convince her that gardening was an enjoyable past time. As far as she was concerned it’s nothing more than “house work outdoors”. For her it holds no more interest than having to run around with a mop or duster, and is just another set of chores to get done. A fair point I thought as I’ve often wondered why gardening counts as a leisure pursuit –commonly cited as the UK’s favourite- whilst housework doesn’t. Both are physical work involving similar activities of tidying and sorting, one just happens to be outside. And both often loom guiltily on a householder’s to-do list.
I think this links to the tendency for scholarly attention to gardening to focus on the positives- how much fun it is, how good it is for you. In fact it can be pretty miserable and difficult. Hester Parr mentions this specifically relating to participants in gardening and mental health projects.  Sometimes they just don’t like it and moan about the mud, the cold, the hard work. She gives a fascinating account of the history of the idea of nature and gardening being good for you, particularly in relation to mental health and how making people garden has been tied up with issues of power and control.
There is a strong narrative both historically and today that ‘getting out and getting on with it’ in the garden is good. One is simply supposed to enjoy it and feel restored, hence it’s leisure not work. But how much difference is there really between a rake and a vacuum cleaner? Stopping to think about this brings up a whole range of aspects which don’t quite fit the gardening as leisure frame. What about gardeners who do it as a job of work? What about social pressures on those who struggle to keep up with those over the garden fence? Who’s profiting from promoting the idea that gardening is a fun free time activity? These less fun bits need more academic attention, and I think it’s time to be honest that gardening isn’t always that leisurely.
 Parr, H 2007 ‘Mental health, nature work, and social inclusion’ in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, volume 25, 537-561