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.

pansies

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.

tomatoes and chillies

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.

Pink Arctotis
Orange Arctotis

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.

Seeds To Sow

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.

Tulips
Aster

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!

53 thoughts on “What kind of gardener am I?

  1. What a superb post! I too struggle daily when reading other blogs. I see plants I’d love to have, techniques I’d like to try, greenhouses, cold frames, hard scaping. It can be overwhelming and then I have to bring myself back down to earth and remember what my finances are, my skills, my time limits. I love the relationships and ideas blogging brings me but, as you point out, I need to remember who I am and not try and emulate anyone else.

    1. Hi Marguerite, I’m so glad I am not the only one, I felt a little nervous about this post to be honest! I think we all have to find ways to be content with our lot, to enjoy our own gardens and gardening, while still being stimulated, encouraged and challenged by other people’s. And other people!

      1. I’m grateful you cannot see my garden in its full ‘glory’. We are always teased about the weeds, our wild flowers! Ours is no magazine photo op garden. But it is ours, we like it ;~)

        1. If you like that’s all that matters! And I’d love to see it in all its glory…

  2. Hi Janet,

    I am exactly like you, I have no desire to nanny plants, I buy only hardy plants I know will come back with as little help from me as possible. I procrastinate too much and love our natives plants far too much that actually I don’t tend to like exotics (I don’t like variegated plants, they look messy to me.)

    Pelargoniums= stinky! At last, someone who agrees with me. I hate them, they smell horrible. They remind me of science lessons where they always, always, ALWAYS lined the windowsills at school to be used in Chlorphyll tests and if I brushed against them I’d get that waft of nastiness.
    I do however think the rose bloom pelargoniums are nice, and have been tempted by them…

    I sowed some plants really early to overwinter last year, the Cosmos only flowered in October, would you believe?! So as you say it doesn’t always work out trying to get ahead. This year I’ll sow them in Feb/March. If they don’t work out this year I may have to give up on them :(

    1. Hi Liz, your comment about the Pelargoniums in the science lab made me laugh, and brought back memories – it must have been some kind of law because it was the same in our school! I’m not fond of variegation either, although I have kept some Euonymous shrubs because they make good fillers in the shady border. I know exactly what you mean about Cosmos, the same happened to me, but I really don’t want to have to give up on them. Lets hope we both get lucky and have beautiful Cosmos to get dirty knees photographing this summer!

  3. Yes, I share some of these views Janet. I don’t have a greenhouse, yet I still produce what I consider to be some mighty fine crops of tomatoes and chillis. And my garden (facing North!) gets much less sun than I would like, but you learn to live within limitations like this. I also spend a lot less than most gardeners on “hardware” like crop-protection equipment. I prefer to grow plants that will survive more-or-less unaided (the odd layer of fleece excepted).
    I disagree on the stinky pelargoniums issue though. I love their smell – it reminds me of the Mediterranean.

    1. Hi Mark. Clarification on “stinky” Pelargoniums: I only meant the standard red ones, and like Liz above, I do really dislike the smell. I loved my scented Pelargoniums though…

  4. Haha… I hesitate to say “me too” since that seems to go against the point of this blog. I read other people’s posts and find myself thinking “maybe I could fit all those houseplants in my tiny kitchen alongside all the citrus.” Yes, as long as I don’t need to cook!

    Thanks for bringing us back to earth… so we can go dig in it with practicality. :)

    1. I find myself mentally expanding both house and garden as I fall in love with yet another new plant, and then get a shock when I actually look at the space available! Ah well, good to know it is something so many others battle with too.

  5. Hi Janet, a beautifully written post, illustrated with wonderful pictures of some of my favourite plants. I agree with you in almost every respect, shying away from smelly pelargoniums and the neat but somehow, to me, rather soulless, displays of bedding plants in favour of wildly sprawling (mostly perennial) plants that will take a little neglectare more independent. I do like the cheer of a few pansies though, and hope to get our hanging baskets hanging once more, though I tend to plant en masse with just one or two types of plant, rather than anything organised in any way…
    And I agree that it is a little hard at the minute to remain patient and not leap to the potting bench with fistfuls of seedpackets when others are already taking off down this path. Thank you for the reminder to sit tight a little longer and go by our own timings rather than those of others! Sara x

    1. Thank you Sara, what a lovely thing to say. “Sprawling” sounds perfect to me, though partly that is my own laziness I think. I’m with you on pansies, and last year I enjoyed pots full of deep purple petunias cascading down, they flowered for months and really cheered everything up. Here’s to each of us feeling OK about gardening in what ever way we feel comfortable with, and working with what we have rather than pining for what we wish we had.

  6. I know exactly what you mean. I have been reading so many post and I feel anxious and left behind. But then again, I am still learning and trying new things. and every time have to ask myself, what will I grow next

    1. Hi fer. I find you really inspirational, you manage to grow so much in a tiny space, and share your knowledge so well.

  7. such a great philosophy…we all get caught in the mob mentality this time of year but it is great you are “going with the flow” remaining “balanced” and seeking your personal “truth”…bravo!!!

  8. Janet, It’s interesting how we evolve. Right now, I have a lot of plants overwintering, first in the three season room, and now in the dining room and basement, because I can’t stand not having the phormiums, begonias, melianthus and other plants that make the garden special. It seems like no trouble, because it’s important to me – on the other hand, you won’t catch me with seed potatoes or tomato seedlings. I suppose I like that we all have different priorities, and that’s okay :) Thought provoking post!

    1. Hi Cyndy, I agree, it is good that we all have different priorities and approaches. Heaven help me if I ever get a sunroom and/or conservatory to play with!! All best will be off…

  9. Its cold and damp outside, the sky is gray and the ground is covered in old snow. Life was dreary here until this latest post arrived in my Google Reader and brought a smile to my face. The photos are beautiful. The graphic design of the blog ignites them and makes them pop off the screen. Congratulations!

    1. Thank you Allan, what a lovely complement. Glad to have brightened your day!

  10. A most thought provoking post Janet. I enjoy reading blogs as like books they open up so many ideas – new to me plants, different techniques and experiences – so much information to be processed and evaluated. I am most grateful for the chance to access it all but at the end of the day like everything in life, I think that you have to sing your own
    song when it comes to gardening :)

  11. Your garden philosophy sounds much like mine. I have accepted that what I see in other people’s gardens may not work in mine, for multiple reasons. I take care of my plants, but I don’t coddle them. They have to adapt to my soil and climate, and to my own habits, or else they die.

    Good luck with your allotment! I hope you are feeling well and able to accomplish all that you hope.

    1. Thank you Deb. Limited allotment progress at the moment because the ground has frozen again!

  12. thanks for this post Plantalicious – you have expressed what I feel and all the other commenters above. Our gardens evolve and we do too. Reminds me of something i read recently: you can’t find yourself, you can only create yourself. cheers, cm

  13. As a garden with a cold northern climate, I find that my southern neighbors are all taking about their wonderful spring gardens long before mine is awake from its long winter slumber. At times, it is hard not to feel left behind! I am sure by the time I get blogging about my spring bulbs, it seems like old news to some people, but in the end, I have come to realize it really doesn’t matter a bit who came first.

    1. Hi Jennifer, thanks for visiting. Climates vary so much, even here in the UK we notice quite large differences in growing seasons etc.. I think it is really important to enjoy your own garden’s seasons, so I will look forward to your celebrations of your Spring bulbs, whenever they occur. Its not going to be old news to you!

  14. Glad you put this up – I’ve always felt a bit like a notpropergardener due to many of the things you say.

    I hate pigeon holing and like you I’d pigeon holed myself into ‘not a proper gardener’ because of xyz. I actually changed from studying horticulture after a couple of years (OK well maybe more than a couple) to ecology because I just couldn’t bear the whole – we’ll produce it at this time of the year, for this long – whatever the consequences.

    Loads of what you’ve said makes perfect sense.

    :)

    I feel a bit more ‘normal’ thank you.

    I’m ignoring my seeds. They are shouting – but I’m ignoring them. Cutting back my chilli’s has made me figure that – I don’t need to start my own ones so early as the cut back plants on the windowsill are regrowing quite fine now, and I *should* manage a better crop this year.

    All about the tricks which work I guess and those which dont :)

    Lovely!
    xx

    1. Goodness Fay, I’ve learned a lot of gardening tips from you so I am really quite shocked to hear you thought “not proper gardener” thoughts after reading some of my blog posts. Very glad you feel more ‘normal’ – though I’m never quite sure what that means or if I want to be considered normal…

      I love the idea of seeds shouting – that captures it perfectly. I’m hoping to try over wintering chillies this year, I gave up with the ones I grew last year because although they were pretty they didn’t taste of anything. Of course now I’ve discovered that this was probably because I over watered them and they would probably have been great after all…

  15. Hi Janet, great post and lovely photos. I agree with you on the heating side, if it doesn’t grow on an indoor windowsill then it doesn’t happen for me. I’ll put bubblewrap inside the greenhouse but that’s as far as I’ll go. Things will die but how can you garden without things dieing? It just gives new opportunities. I start seeds early if they don’t grow I’ll sow some more. Everything has two chances in my garden. I got my potatoes a week or so ago and they’re in a box in the loft. There’s plenty of time to chit them (I still believe it doesn’t make a huge difference anyway). I would say do what you want when you feel like it. I like a good monthly list of jobs but do I ever stick to them?

    1. Hi Damo, I now understand why your blog has the name it does! I always run out of windowsill space, and have Heath Robinson-style plans to overcome this by using an area in my study to lift some seed trays up level with the window on boxes and then put some foil-covered cardboard behind to bounce the light around. We’ll see, it will probably just mean I forget to water them and they’ll die anyway…

  16. A thought provoking post, Janet and I think we should all ask ourselves this question. Compared to you I feel I am a disorganised gardener who plants on a wing and a prayer. I agree about the heating greenhouses etc as we are encouraged to be mindful of energy conservation. Ultimately we are what our gardens make of us and your divine images are testament.

    1. Hi Laura. I’m a little worried that I have given the impression of being an organised gardener! With the new allotment perhaps, but only in how I manage my energy. For the rest, although I try to think planting combinations through the rest is semi-organised chaos and whim. I like your idea that our gardens make us. I certainly sometimes feel that my garden has shaped me at least as much as I have shaped it!

  17. Your post is very eloquent. I so agree with you that we each need to develop a gardening philosophy suited to our lifestyle and stick with it (with a little room for evolving). When I started my nursery, I made two philosophical decisions. First, no employees ever. I want to manage plants not people. Second, even though I grow 50% of the plants I sell, no greenhouse ever. It is so much easier to grow plants in the ground where they require no maintenance and just wait patiently for me to dig them up and sell them. People said I couldn’t succeed without employees and a greenhouse, but I have.

    It is also against my gardening philosophy to never pamper a plant. I research where it likes to grow in the wild, and then I plant it in a spot that best replicates that in my garden. It’s on its own after that, and if it dies, it didn’t belong here.

    1. Hi Carolyn, thank you for a thought-provoking comment! I am fascinated that you decided not to use greenhouses in your nursery business. I’ve never really thought about it, I had always assumed greenhouses were a must, but it must add in a lot of additional costs. Do you have any idea whether the plants you grow are actually more robust for never having been pampered under glass?

      Not having employees makes perfect sense, though I suppose it puts a natural limit on the size of your business.

      1. Janet, The biggest compliment that I get over and over again from my customers is that none of the plants they bought from me died (I try to take it in the spirit it was intended). I think that one of reasons they are more successful with my plants is that they are getting a plant with the root ball nature intended. The roots that are in container grown plant pots are not the true roots and die off as part of the process. Just compare a plant you dig from the ground to the same plant out of a pot. There are many other reasons that I can’t fully go into here: my plants actually grow in this area, all the plants that don’t have died before they got to my customers, I use real compost to pot plants, I care for the plants after they are potted because I can’t afford to throw them away (and wouldn’t want to), I know how to grow the plants and can tell my customers what to do, etc.

  18. Janet: An excellent post that is thought-provoking for all of us. I’ve felt during this past week that I wasn’t “keeping up” because I got very busy at work and didn’t visit my favorite blogs. I’m so glad I checked your post today! I, too, have many friends who grow their plants from seeds. But I don’t. Maybe someday I will, and I still long for a greenhouse. But for now I’m content gardening from April through November, and dreaming about it for the other four months. I’m definitely looking forward to future posts about your allotment! Beth

    1. Hi Beth. I know what you mean about the guilty feeling you can get from “not keeping up” with blog posts when life gets busy. Being content from April to November and then dreaming sounds a lovely gardening year. Hope life gets a little less hectic and at some point donates a greenhouse to you!

  19. I love your gardening philosophy. I guess I’m much the same, both from necessity (financial and other practical restrictions) and from ideology (do I really want to contribute to global warming by wasting energy on heating a green house?).

    I believe in plants that are suitable for the place you grow them in. sure, some might require more care, but none should require anything that has an impact on the environment. That is, in my book they shouldn’t. Like you I really admire those people who manage to grow things that would normally be out of bounds in a Northern climate.

    1. Hi Flaneur Gardener, thank you for stopping by. Had to look up “flaneur” – cool blog name. Sounds as if we are cut from the same cloth re garden philosophy.

  20. Janet — I love the way you coin a phrase: “I do not, in fact, have to race towards Spring like some demented speed freak”. Great post – great philosophy. –Shyrlene

  21. I really enjoyed this post, Janet. It is easy to get caught up in what others are doing and feel that you should do it too. At this time of year, I sometimes feel that if I were a better gardener, I would start plants from seed instead of just buying them from the nursery. But then I have to remind myself that time is a finite quantity and consider my obligations and priorities. One priority is to develop a gardening style that is carefree enough to allow me plenty of time to just sit and enjoy the garden. This has resulted in what I jokingly call my “love the plant you’re with” philosophy. -Jean

    1. Hi Jean, I am going to have to adopt your “love the plant your’e with” philosophy, if only to have the song running through my head every time I remember it! I think the notion that “good” gardeners grow everything from seed can be invidious. People without the time and/or inclination to do so can still create and care for wonderful gardeners, making them, in my opinion, great gardeners. I love your priority of making sure your garden allows you time to enjoy it, something that can be only to easy to forget.

  22. What a wonderful philosophy and well written post. I enjoyed every word and image. It is easy to get taken in by others’ gardens and techniques, but learning from experience is always the best teacher. I find that I learn everyday from others and I take what I can from that knowledge. It just adds and complements what I know already.

    1. Hi Donna. Yes, learning from others is a wonderful way to learn, but learning by doing trumps pretty much anything, even if it does go horribly wrong at times! I love to learn by watching others, but the blogging world is a good second best there.

  23. You have a very refreshing philosophy: pragmatic and realistic. Like you I’m surrounded by interested gardeners growing interesting plants. But the world is full of so many wonderful options that better suit my patience level, climate, and capabilities that I don’t feel like I’m denying myself any pleasures by selecting the plants that I do. The best examples of personal gardens result from people who go their own way. I know your garden will be one of them.

    1. Hi James, glad you mentioned the role of patience and the importance of knowing how much you have and how it affects how you garden. I am very lucky in that I am now gardening along side my father-in-law. He is n’t able to do much yet as he still works full time but he absolutely loves the kind of gardening that takes a type of patience and meticulous attention to detail that I just don’t have. He loves careful intricate pruning and, if we ever move somewhere with a lawn and I can’t persuade everyone that we are better off digging it up to plant more plants, he will be lawn care man. Each to their own!

  24. Interesting read Janet. Anyone into gardening does evolve in their approach and types of plants they grow in time, especially with the acquisition of new things, like for you the greenhouse. Evolving keeps the interest high!

    1. It would get pretty boring if our approach to gardening became static, wouldn’t it!

      Re the greenhouse, I found myself freeze-framing my way through Carol Klein’s programme the other day trying to work out how she was growing her tomatoes…

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