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Become a Better Gardener

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

Depending on when you are are reading this, if you are a VIP then, it's National Gardening Week this week, if you're not subscribed to our VIP Head Gardener then you are probably reading this a week later in which case, it was National Gardening week last week. It got me thinking about how I started out gardening and how far I’ve come. Changes I’ve made, the things I’ve learnt to the point where I was so obsessed with it I decided to make it my vocation. So much of what I’ve learnt along the way has helped shape me and my gardening practices but I’m always striving to learn more and become a better gardener.

So where do you start, well the first thing is to find something you love. The love will drive the passion and before you know it your are an expert entering into village competitions because you just so happen to have cracked the secret formula to growing giant onions! It could happen. For me it was edibles. Herbs were the first thing I started to grow and then I cleared a small border and grew some carrots and slowly my love for growing my own produce began. Even when I haven’t always had a garden to turn to, I managed to grow something I could eat, like chillies. So whatever does the trick for you, maybe it’s flowers, I’ve grown flowers in a commercial setting and it wasn’t until last year that I actually grew flowers from seed for the first time for my own garden and I really loved that too.

Being passionate about something leads to wanting to know more about it and suddenly you've learnt where it grows naturally, what type of conditions it likes and how to get the very best out of it. Learning the botanical names of plants can be incredibly useful since most have a clue in them as to the type of plant it is, for example, ‘officinalis’ means it either has medicinal properties or is used in cooking. If there is something in particular that you’d love to grow, first make sure that you can offer that plant the type of conditions that it likes in order for it to thrive, otherwise the results may be disappointing. You will have heard, I’m sure, the phrase ‘right plant, right place’ and whilst this might seem like a cute catchphrase it is so important, so next time you are thinking about adding a plant to your garden be armed with the information you need to know in order to help it thrive.

The thing I enjoy as much as gardening is reading and whilst I read a lot of books that aren’t garden related at all, I still do enjoy reading about gardens and gardening techniques (if you want to see what I’m reading you can check out our bookshelf). And I’m sure I’ve said this before but the thing I love about gardening is that there are many ways to achieve the same outcome. I’m always fascinated to see on social media how different people sow tomato seeds and the different techniques they use to prick them out and pot them on, it’s a joy. With gardening I’m constantly learning, not just about plants but about myself too and I’m surprised all the time by what I can achieve and grateful for calm and peace that gardening brings to my life.

I knew very early on that gardening was an escape for me, the focus that it requires helps to alleviate for a short time any stress or concerns that are going on elsewhere in my life. But it’s been only recently that I’ve tuned into the frequency of my garden and being mindful of what it is I want to achieve. My life outside of the garden is very clear, I eat a plant based diet, I practice a plastic free lifestyle, I don’t use chemical based cleaning products, I’m constantly looking for alternatives and ways of reducing my carbon footprint. So it was vital to me that this level of mindfulness be present in my gardening practices too. But I don’t just use my garden for gardening, it’s my place to read and relax. It’s a place to socialize and share with loved ones, it’s a place that inspires me, like right now I’m sitting in my garden writing. It’s my sanctuary, a place I can retreat too and watch the visitors fly in and fly out.

I’m conscious that I share the garden with many little visitors and so I have to be sure that any decision I make doesn’t have a negative impact on them. I garden very naturally, I guess it would be considered ‘organic’ but I don’t use any chemicals whether that’s pesticides or even lawn feed, I have a simple rule if I don’t understand what’s in it, I don’t use it. I prefer to use what nature provides, so I use tomato leaf spray to discourage aphids in the greenhouse (smelly but affective), I use worm tea for nitrogen feed and comfrey for potassium feed. I make my own compost, leaf mould and worm compost. Once you start researching you will be surprised at the amount of natural solutions that exist in your garden without having to resort to chemicals and plastic! I up-cycle as much as possible and I actively encourage birds, hedgehogs and insects - in the hope that they will help out with some of the more destructive visitors. But there are inevitably some losses along the way but as long as there is something to harvest at the end I don’t mind sharing a little. Besides if you expect it then you can plan for it and I always have a few spares, just in case I lose an entire crop, which so far has never happened. And whilst it might not always look pretty, what I strive for is balance not perfection.

I’ve never understood the term ‘putting to bed’ especially when it comes to a garden. I feel incredibly fortunate to even have a garden, as so many people do not, so the thought that there are months of the year where nothing is happening just astounds me. I enjoy the diversity of every season and I want to make the most of every moment I’m lucky enough to have. So whether it’s a lovely spring day in April or a cold chilly morning in December, get out there take a look around, I promise there is always something going on. I have only had my present garden for a year and a half but my goal is to have something growing in every bed over winter, I’ve been researching and I know it can be done, even if it’s green manure, that’s better than bare soil.

If gardening has taught me anything it’s patience and persistence, nothing comes for free and why should it, it feels good to work for it, it’s rewarding. So keep learning, keeping discovering new plants, new techniques and be mindful about the impact you are having in your garden and work to become a better gardener every-time you step outside. Gardening has many benefits one being that it connects you with nature. But I read recently that we as humans have a disconnect with nature, as though we are not included somehow, but we are. So we shouldn’t need to find connection to nature because we are nature, so maybe what we are actually trying to connect with, is ourselves?

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