The Unconventional Gardener

If you meet me in person I look pretty normal, but given that I chose to title this blog The Unconventional Gardener, you’ve probably guessed that I consider myself to be a little unusual. I had a very conventional upbringing, but it didn’t stick; I consider the middle of the road to be the place where you’re most likely to get run over.

Various things that have happened this year have brought strong pressures to conform, which has caused a bit of an identity crisis and as a result the wellspring of my creativity has all but dried up.

So I have been taking some time to reconnect with myself and the things that make me tick, and I came across some interesting work on the concept of eccentricity. In the 90s, psychiatrist Dr David Weeks studied 1000 eccentrics of all ages, and came up with a list of 25 eccentric characteristics, of which the first five are the most important, and apply to almost every single eccentric:

(1) Enduring non-conformity

I am past the first flush of youth now, so I guess I can commit to enduring non-conformity; I suspect it is a renewable resource!

(2) Creativity

I make my living putting words onto pages, and seeing as it’s important that they’re put there in new combinations, there’s a certain amount of creativity required 🙂

(3) Curiosity

I find it odd that most people aren’t more curious. Why do most people grow out of curiosity? I want to know!

(4) An enduring and distinct feeling of differentness from others

Indeed. Once or twice in my adult life, people who should know better have told me that I am completely normal. It’s the clothes, isn’t it? I should wear wackier clothes or something.

(5) Idealism

I’m an organic, peat-free gardener who started gardening to cut down on Food Miles and wants everyone to stop what they’re doing and think about how they can tread more lightly on the planet, so that’s another box ticked.

(6) Happily obsessed with a number of long-lasting preoccupations (usually about five or six)

Plants. Blogging. Books. Tea. Space. WW2. The environment.

There are more, but they come and go as they please.

(7) Intelligence

It is apparently impolite to admit to intelligence (particularly whilst female), but I do have a certificate from Mensa.

(8) Opinionated and outspoken, convinced of being right and that the rest of the of the world is out of step with them

I lose a point here. I am not opinionated, and I am certainly not outspoken. In fact, one of my ‘issues’ is that I don’t speak my mind. A friend once told me that she loved the way I said whatever what on my mind; I didn’t have the heart to tell her my tongue is permanently bitten.

(9) Non-competitive

Definitely. Curiosity is my driving force, not playing to win. Where there are winners, there are losers, and I’d prefer not make someone else a loser, thank you.

(10) Not in need of reassurance or reinforcement from the rest of society

I will tick this box. Mostly because I have learned that – being different – you’re never going to get it.

(11) Unusual eating habits and living arrangements

I have no idea what would fall into this category. I mean, we’re having a Rationing experiment, but otherwise I think our living arrangements are pretty ordinary 🙂 I don’t live in a polytunnel or anything. I did once read an article about a man who lived in a polytunnel; I think I still have it somewhere. I found it quite inspiring, although I would imagine he found it a little damp.

(12) Not particularly interested in the opinions or company of other people, except perhaps in order to persuade them to their contrary point of view

Depends. I like people who are different, and don’t seek to convert them to my way of thinking, but I am also a massive introvert and people wear me out so I like them in small doses.

(13) Possessed of a mischievous sense of humour, charm, whimsy and wit

I think that’s a question other people would have to answer, but I like to think so.

(14) More frequently an eldest or an only child

Nope.

(15) Eccentricity observed in at least 36% of detailed family histories, usually a grandparent, aunt, or uncle.

Great Aunt Margaret was, by all accounts, a bit eccentric. There are tales of her walking in front of taxis, blowing herself up by turning the gas on and then going to look for the matches, and wearing a fur coat from which she had brushed off mildew. I am reassured (by more conventional relatives) that she was no blood relation. An my mother’s cousin lived on a farm that had a Guard Sheep. When I was little it took exception to me and head butted me in the stomach; I fell over.

I’ll put that down as a Yes.

(16) Eccentrics prefer to talk about their thoughts rather than their feelings.

I feel that this one doesn’t apply to me. Let me think it through some more.

(17) Slightly abrasive

Oh, give over.

(18) Midlife changes in career or lifestyle

I went from physicist to techie to garden writer, so tick there.

(19) Feelings of “invisibility”, which means that they believed other people did not seem to hear them or see them, or take their ideas seriously

I’m guessing no one has read this far. But seriously, I write things down because no one listens to me.

(20) Feel that others can only take them in small doses

Actually the reverse, see 12.

(21) Feel that others have stolen, or would like to steal, their ideas.

Saying yes would make me sound paranoid, but the downside of a blog is that people make off with your ideas. Of course, the upside of a blog is that you can share your ideas with people 🙂 It’s just that more competitive people can use you as a leg up, which feels pretty rubbish.

(22) Dislikes small talk or other apparently inconsequential conversation

What’s the weather like with you today? It’s nice here; sunny but cold. There was a frost overnight, it made the fallen leaves look pretty. I can small talk; I’d just rather discuss something you’re passionate about.

(23) A degree of social awkwardness

If you consider social awkwardness to be a scale, then I’m up the less awkward end, but I never feel as though I fit in, so that would be a degree of social awkwardness, I guess. How many people would have no degree of social awkwardness?

(24) More likely to be single, separated or divorced, or multiply separated or divorced

42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce. Let’s not use that as an indicator of eccentricity.

(25) A poor speller

I’m an excellent speller. People ask me how to spell things. Sometimes I have to write words down to get them right, but then lots of things in life are easier when you’ve got a pen in your hand. Or is that just me?


So that’s a resounding yes – I am eccentric. How about you? Dr Weeks has a handy fun five quiz on his website, if you want the short answer. It will then lead you on to a slightly longer version if you’re stuck in one of those endless teleconferences and people can’t see what you’re doing on your laptop. It tells me I could be as eccentric as Nikola Tesla. Perhaps it’s time I started wearing my pith helmet in public.