One of the strongest drives we experience, is our desire to leave our mark on the world, the materials, tools and medium are almost irrelevant. Whether it is through a picture, a piece of music, a sculpture or the written word, we often find fulfilment in the power of sharing our experience through our creations.
The power of imagination and creativity are probably some of the greatest and most unique qualities we are born with but unfortunately, as adults, our creative pursuits are not always encouraged and even more rarely developed. When we are children we have plenty of time for play, to tell stories, make up games and draw pictures. Through our schooling and the rigid systems that are used to measure our relative achievements in maths, science or the languages, the focus starts to become more about the collection and memorising of facts, rather than how these tools can be used to best effect.
Innovation is always a product of creativity. It is only when we are able to step outside of the normal narrow confines imposed upon us by society and think or act in a different way that we can create something truly unique.
In his 1943 paper “A theory of human motivation”, Abraham Maslow espoused his theory of a ‘hierarchy of needs’. This is often described as a pyramid, with the most fundamental needs at the bottom. The pyramid starts with physiological needs like food, shelter and sleep. The next level of the hierarchy is safety, including personal security, financial security, health and well-being and resilience against adversity. Once our physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the next level of the hierarchy is love and belonging, found through friendship, intimacy or family. We all have a need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance from a social group, otherwise exclusion can lead to social anxiety or eventually depression. The next level is self-esteem. We often feel a strong desire to be recognised and respected by others. This could be through a profession, charitable works or a hobby which give us a sense of contributing to a cause greater than ourselves. In some people this may manifest itself as a need for status, fame, prestige or glory, but in others it will manifest itself as a need for competence, mastery, independence and freedom.
The top hierarchical level of the pyramid is occupied by self-actualisation and self-transcendence. This is possibly the hardest both to pinpoint and achieve. It refers mainly to a person feeling that they have managed to fulfil their potential. This can be very specific to different individuals. Maslow returned to this aspect in later years in many attempts to refine and redefine it. He came to the conclusion that this is where the human need for spirituality arises from, our need to relate to “oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos” (Farther Reaches of Human Nature, New York 1971, p. 269). It is here that we find our need to express our experience through creation.
Gardening is one creative activity people of any age, ability or knowledge level can enjoy and get something from. To create a garden is to mould our environment, cultivating the wilderness and using the materials of the natural world to create our own vision of paradise. The process of shaping the earth to form a space, of growing a plant from a tiny seed, of nurturing and caring for it all are creative acts and through practicing them we can gain that sense of self-actualisation and self-fulfilment we search for. Ultimately, this is why we are driven to garden.