I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I approach gardening. I thought I had myself sorted. Quite neatly pigeon-holed even. But new ventures – having a greenhouse, getting an allotment – have forced me to think a lot of things through again.
There are so many different approaches to gardens and gardening. Some people love bedding. Until recently there was a couple just up the road from here who had an immaculate front garden which was replanted with immaculate bedding plants three or even four times a year. I admired their dedication and meticulousness but it is not my style at all. In fact I used to be a bit of a snob about bedding plants, something I inherited from my father, who tends to have very strong views about such things and is never afraid to share those views with others. I don’t think I will ever become like a good friend of mine who starts every year by sowing his annual bedding seed alongside his veg seed, and constructs amazing hanging basket displays for his house. I do, however, now appreciate what these bright annuals have to offer by way of perking the patio up a little. I certainly appreciate being able to admire Violas and Primroses through the winter when everything else is beige or dark green or just hidden away under the earth.
Getting my greenhouse opened up other new horizons. I grew tomatoes, lots of tomatoes, and chillies, which was wonderful. And because I had a greenhouse I assumed I would keep it frost-free because everyone I know who has one does this. So I bought some tender plants – scented pelargoniums, beautiful Arctotis – on the basis that I would over winter them. But once I started thinking about it I realised I just wasn’t comfortable heating it, even a little, even after insulating it. So I took cuttings from my new tender plants, which had so stolen my heart that summer. I wrapped the Arctotis plants in fleece and bubblewrap and snuggled them on to a bench in the greenhouse. I reminded myself that the dear friend who showed me that not all pelargoniums have the unsubtle stinky red flowers that I remember from childhood gardens on the coast on Anglesey and neither heats nor insulates her greenhouse and her precious pelargoniums survive year after year.
The cuttings all took well and then promptly died, either from too much or too little water, I’m not sure. You already know what happened to the pelargoniums, and the jury is still out on the Arctotis, still huddled in their bubblewrap and fleece jackets. And I find myself remembering a promise I made to myself some time ago, pre greenhouse, that instead of planting anything tender and temporary in pots for the patio I would plant beautiful but tough perennials, perhaps ones I can’t grow in my borders because of soil or lack of sunshine.
This seems far more in keeping with my general philosophy, which is to only plant hardy plants, and only ones that will enjoy and thrive in the conditions I can offer them. Another personal choice. I’ve given up on trying to change soil conditions radically because I’ve fallen in love with a plant that demands very sharp drainage and poor soil in full sun and I think that it might work if I just dig in lots of grit and offer it partial sun. Because it is beautiful and I want it. I’ve also never really fallen in love with the tender exotics that demand straw and fleece to keep them alive – or over-wintering in a conservatory. I admire other people’s bananas and cannas, tree ferns, lemons and oranges, and admire their dedication in caring for the plants they love so much, but it is just not me. Somehow, though, getting the greenhouse caused some sort of rush of blood to the head and I lost my way a little. It has taken a little death to bring me back to myself.
But then I got the allotment. Suddenly I am reading about people starting their chillies and tomatoes, many of them using grow lights indoors or heat mats in the (frost-free) greenhouse. I was so tempted. I felt this itch to begin sowing seed, and a faint but growing anxiety about the long growing season required by chilli plants to thrive. A sense of being left behind. I even got as far as looking at thermostats and soil heating coils and grow lights. And realised that I have to find some other way to manage my fear of being left behind in this horticultural head-rush that overtakes us when we think Spring is coming. It just doesn’t fit either my budget or my personal philosophy. I had to remind myself that I grew perfectly good tomatoes and chillies last year, that weren’t sown until 1st March. Remind myself that a close friend got all excited and sowed his tomatoes early last year, in his heated, not just frost-free, greenhouse, and watched them go all leggy and pathetic. He sowed again later in the year and got much better plants. A two-edged sword this blogging lark, because although it is wonderful to share experiences and learn from others, I, at least, can easily wind up comparing myself with others too, and that can get a little unconstructive.
The thing that really brought this home to me was seed potatoes.
Again, I had been reading about people receiving their seed potatoes and starting to chit them and feeling left behind. My order went in late – I didn’t get my allotment and know I had space to grow any spuds until early January – and I have no idea when they will be delivered. Then I read about how, actually, getting your seed potatoes delivered this early brings its own problems with it. Chitting too early isn’t good, so they need storing. Not a problem I am likely to have.
We’re all different. Its wonderful that we are all different, and that so are our gardens. I love seeing what other people grow, how they grow, when they sow seed, what works. I greatly value the feedback, encouragement, suggestions I get from fellow garden bloggers. But I have to remember that I don’t have to copy everyone else, or, indeed, anyone else, to learn from them. I need to remember to learn from my mistakes, be willing to experiment – and therefore make yet more mistakes – but not get carried away. We all make choices, about gardening, about life. As gardeners, particularly gardeners who blog about our gardening, we then also have to contend with seeing what choices other people make.
My approach to gardening continues to evolve. I learn new things, my circumstances change. I just need to remember that it needs to remain my approach, that I need to be thoughtful about it, rather than feeling I need to some how keep up or even, heaven help me, compete. So this is me taking a deep breath and reminding myself that I do not, in fact, have to race towards Spring like some demented speed freak. The days are getting longer, there will be a lot of sowing to do, a lot of plants to nurture, but right now it is, actually, still winter, despite all the welcome signs of new growth. Which is just as well, as I have an allotment to finish digging before I can plant anything much at all!