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Growing Stuff  Articles:   6. Putting Purpose into Gardening
a) Preparing
Clearing away plant debris perhaps should also include the mention of cutting grass. The longer you leave it, the wetter it will become and the more difficult it will be to cut. Edges need trimming and perhaps cutting back where they have spread over the adjacent path. The compost bin awaits a fresh supply of cuttings.   

c) Cleaning Up
     This is not clearing away, this is just cleaning up. This can be cleaning the green algae off paving stones or it can be rubbing down and recoating garden furniture, or coating the fence or shed. It all needs doing sometime. Smart people look after the woodwork in their garden. The not-so-wise ignore it until after a new years it just rots and falls down or collapses under your weight. Yes, cost and effort but it is better than losing it. Or the bench collapsing under you!

And So...

Well there it is, a little encouragement to get on top of your garden and not let it get on top of you! Sowing seeds, planting bulbs or established plants are all well and good but, in my mind at least, nothing like as satisfying as clearing up the garden in preparation for all that can follow.  If you’ve never seen it like than, think again.

If you have a jungle out there, what a wonderful opportunity you have to feel good as, at the end of the day, you see the neat and tidy hedges, bushes, shrubs and so on, the area clear of debris, a freshly created compost bin full, and a bonfire beckoning when the wind is blowing away from the houses and it’s at the end of the day when all washing has been taken in. Oh, what joy!

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6. Putting Purpose into Gardening: Preparing

There are probably as many ways of going about gardening as there are people. There are gardeners and there are, I’m told, ‘plants men’. Gardeners focus on the whole garden while plants men focus on planting or growing things in the garden. Our target audience on these pages are those who wouldn’t categorise themselves as either of these, just people who enjoy pottering in their patch.

The only thing though, is that if you don’t think about your garden and just let it happen, you’ll end up with a wilderness, and a chaotic one at that! Without getting complicated or professional, I have concluded that there are the three approaches that we could consider to help us put purpose into our gardening that might yield a better patch than we have now, and I’m going to call them Preparing, Planning and Projects. This page covers on the first one - preparing.

Before we can get on growing things, or thinking out new projects, there is coping with the refuge that is our garden which, depending on the time of year, can look bedraggled messy and hung-over.
The Despair of the Jungle
Some of our readers may look out their back window in despair as nature, left to herself, has run amok. (Don’t let your teenage children read this but whenever Nature is referred to as ‘she’ I think, rather than ‘Mother Nature’, the ‘she’ must be a teenager because left to herself, her ‘room’ soon becomes an absolute shambles!)

When we first moved into our present house quite a number of years ago, the elderly couple, who had lived there previously, simply hadn’t been able to manage what is a fairly lengthy plot. So it was that we were confronted with what was tantamount to a field with grass three or four foot high. At the time neither my wife nor I were anything like gardeners, having only coped with a pocket-sized handkerchief garden in our first home (and how we had struggled to cope with that!!!), and so my father who owned a large scythe came and levelled the plot for us.
Gradually over the years it has improved but I can feel for those who shudder with horror at the wilderness that surrounds their home.

But here’s what I have learned over the years: clearing a garden and bringing order to it is one of the most therapeutic things you can do! Having said what I’ve said above, when I was young, at one point in my childhood my parents owned an acre of wild land and I spent many a happy hour with my father (almost our only contact) with a bill-hook in hand. Today, I find one of the most pleasurable seasons is early Autumn, when it’s necessary to restore order after the wonderful growth of Summer has gone just too far and everything looks straggly, bushy and overgrown. Suddenly the compost bins are overflowing and November 5th provides an excuse for a bonfire!  
So if you have an unplanned jungle, I know it’s great for the wildlife, but if it creates a sense of despair in you, I want you to know that you can beat it - you may need help, but you can beat it - and the reward is such a sense of accomplishment that you’ll be a new person!

Different Approaches

I was round at a friend’s house a while back and observed his neatly kept back garden.  Admittedly it is only a quarter the size of mine but here, I noted, was a man who obviously grabbed the spare moments when it was not cold or wet and who did clean-up jobs around the place, bit by bit.
By comparison, if it’s a Winter clear-up,  in the approaching Spring I tend to wait until the weather is getting drier and warmer and, on the excuse that I leave last year’s dead materials to protect roots from the frost, wait until I will hit the lot in one big go. I look forward to the immensely satisfying job of clearing away all last year’s dead material and that which has been thrashed by the harshness of winter, and seeing a neat and tidy garden emerge again.  Indeed, I note that such a thing also happens round about May time when the Spring flowers have come and gone and the blue forget-me-nots that are no longer blue, and need pulling out and throwing away. In fact, the more I have observed my garden, this clearing up needs to be done at the end of each of the four seasons or at the beginning of the next. (So if you’re a beginner, don’t think having done it once, that’s it!)
So, have a look around your garden. What needs doing to simply clean it up? Are you going to be a ‘spare-minute-grabber’ or like me, an ‘all-day-Saturday-cleaning-restorationist’?

What Needs Doing

Preparing, in the form of cleaning up, can involve a whole bunch of things:

a) Collecting Debris
It may mean going round the garden collecting up empty flower pots, picking up gnomes that have been knocked over (we cater for all sorts of people), collecting up redundant canes, he occasional brick or large stone (you don’t have such things???), dead fireworks (guess what time of the year that will be) or even the occasional little pile of dead and shrivelled weeds that you pulled up but just left there (you never do that???)
b) Clearing Away Plant Debris
       Leaves die, flowers die, plants die, branches or stems get broken, hedges or bushes need cutting back. I get the impression that there are distinctly different viewpoints in the gardening world about pruning. There are Autumn pruners and Spring pruners, but when it comes to Spring there are February pruners and there are March or April pruners, so I’m not going to get into trouble by coming down on one side or another. Some plants appear better left alone, some pruned in Autumn and some in Spring. Pruning is a subject on its own so I’m sorry I won’t go any further on it here. Some other time.

Digging is not a chore that excites new gardeners, but some time in the year you are going to have to do it. This ‘clearing away’ doesn’t only include old or dead plants, it also includes getting rid of weeds, some of which will have deep roots. Again there are two schools: you can either dig deep with a spade and turn over large clods so that old surface growth gets buried deep where it will rot in the ground, or you can dig shallow  with a fork and lift out all weed growth. Digging also provides an opportunity for putting well rotted compost back into the ground to both feed the soil and produce a more workable soil.