Make a point of visiting us weekly!        Tell a friend about us. Growing Stuff  Articles:   37. Seasons & Habits To return to front ‘Growing Stuff’ page, please CLICK HERE

Seasons & Habits

Writing in early August 2020, it is inevitable that almost everything we write about this year will be tainted with the Pandemic so, you might be thinking, how does the Pandemic and its lock-down get into all things gardening? Well apart from the fact that it is one of the best mental-survival resources there is, I found myself in the garden the other day pondering on the fact that in many ways, if you want to be a successful gardener you will be locked into it. Let me explain.


Before I do that, perhaps I should add our usual rider that these ‘Growing Stuff’ pages are mainly for encouragement for those who don’t feel confident in the garden or who see themselves as beginners (as your editor does). But, as a series of pages a while back on ‘Appreciating Change’ indicated, we are a bit of a crusading force for seeking to remain fresh and have new outlooks on our gardening activities, and I suspect this current article is somewhat on that vein.

So, OK, locked in – to the seasons. Theoretically we are still in Summer – June, July, August.  Autumn (or as our American friends say, ‘The Fall’) is hovering in the wings. The other day my wife commented how, despite constant watering, everything had a dry if not somewhat bedraggled look to it. Some leaves are drying out and dying, others turning yellow from excessive heat or not sufficient feeding. Many of the early summer flowers are going over and need constant dead-heading. The Buddleia bushes, of which we have several different sorts, having been covered with butterflies galore a couple of weeks back, are now having most of their flowers turning brown to seed. It is at this point habit kicks in or, to use the current language, makes me feel locked in to the seasons. These Buddleia desperately need cutting back (dead-heading if you like) before they shed their seeds further across the garden. If I didn’t do it, I face a garden full of Buddleias. Garden requires me to get out there with secateurs or long-reach loppers. it’s me versus the Buddleia and I am determined they will not win.

But then we have this amazing thornless blackberry that is just laden with fruit, so much ripening every day that even a friendly blackbird can’t eat enough of them. Seeing squashy blackberries dropping and messing the ground beneath it, challenges me to get picking, even if the thought of blackberry and apple crumble wasn’t enough. There are damsons ripening at a rapid rate, screaming at me, “Pick us! You know you want to make damson and apple jelly!” And they are right, I do, but if I don’t do it quickly they are going to be all over the ground wasted. I am locked into this self-imposed slavery, this requirement to attend things in the garden for one of the following reasons:

- the garden will run amok and look a total mess if I don’t do this, or

- the fruit and veg need picking or pulling or will go over and be inedible and wasted, or

- if I don’t clean up I won’t be able to be ready for the next season!

And there it is, just like Covid-19 (except not so deadly!), an uncertain future. I have to say if you are a perfectionist who likes to be totally in control, gardening is not for you. You can plan your garden, buy your plants – and then watch a harsh winter devastate them! Hold you hopes lightly, plan for the best, don’t get upset if the weather doesn’t agree with you. Plants – trees, shrubs, bushes – also sometimes die off of their own accord. Gardening and seasons have much to teach us.

I remember an old film (1949 but I must have seen it years later) called Mrs. Mike, about a woman who falls for a Canadian Mountie and goes to live with him in the far north, the Northwest Territories, where winters were harsh and infant mortality rate was high.  After losing her own child the woman eventually gains a new perspective when she hears the local women referring to their third or fourth family. Endurance in the face of devastation. It’s possibly the lesson for a pandemic and it certainly is to a much lesser degree with gardening. Things just don’t always pan out as you hope they will but it makes you appreciate the quirks of gardening where some plants go wild and others sulk and die. Sorry if you think this has taken us down the path of philosophy or life sciences, but gardening is like that sometimes. As a friend of mine used to say, “win some, lose some”. But the point is you don’t give up.

If you want to reap the rich rewards of plant and wildlife in your garden, you accept the life of habit, the routines that are forced on you and that so often demand patience of you. Sowing seeds has to be the classic example, followed closely by buying in small plug-plants. The passing of time and an abundance of patience on your behalf are the essentials of growing from small. Of course you can buy big plants in big pots but the satisfaction of doing it yourself from small is lost.

This year has also loaded us with a fresh realization: if you want the full pleasure of the growing season, you don’t go away in it. So often in the past we’ve grabbed at holidays or times away visiting distant family and had to text to the family back here, “Feel free to pick the strawberries that were just ripening when we left.” So they did. This year we ate our strawberries – and the gooseberries and the blackberries – and enjoyed the full gamut of the growth of many different plants in their different stages. Being locked-down has its advantages. There’s a simple lesson there: unless you hire a gardener (and that takes away half the pleasure), if you want the enjoyment of seeing the plants growing from small to fulness, you need to choose holiday times carefully. See what I mean about being locked-in.

Having a wife who loves the wildlife and who has inspired me similarly, if you want to watch and enjoy the full range of, let’s say, bird life in the garden, again you will accept the restriction of travel until the wonder has passed. This year we watched blackbirds having two broods, blue-tits similarly but two months apart, goldfinches in abundance and, more recently sparrows trying to replenish their numbers after a number of years of depletions, not to mention the occasional green and then red woodpeckers, a robin coming and going, and a thrush settling in. Add to that the wonder of so many different sorts of bees and butterflies and life in the air is full. And if you go away, you miss it! So there we are, locked in!

But it’s going to get worse as the next couple of months pass. I was sitting in the garden the other day, admiring the lushness of it all (despite the dry feeling), and suddenly found myself thinking how different it will all look in three months’ time. All the root crops will be gone, the dahlias will be cut down as will so many other perennials, this year’s annuals will have gone and trees, bushes and shrubs will have been pruned back to give a neat and tide (and empty) appearance. Leaves will have been dropping in profusion and my leaf mould bin will have been topped up. Again, if we don’t do this Autumn clean up, the garden by the middle of October is going to look an untidy mess.

Ah!  There’s the lock-down, in my mind! We could leave it to be a natural mess but I’m a gardener and we don’t do that! So there I am trapped by my own expectations of what our garden should or could be and by what the seasons demand of me, and when I come to think about it, I’m very happy with that. Advice on how to cope in a Pandemic includes ‘have a routine’ and being a gardener means the seasons impose routine on you. Yes, we may have our ups and downs, the weather may give us gales, rain, sleet, snow, frosts but, hey, bring it on! That’s what it is all about! Enjoy!

Top of Page