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You need to be a Stoic Gardener

This summer (I write in 2015) has left me pondering that to be a gardener in this part of the world you have to be a Stoic. I’m sorry to drag philosophical concepts into this page but that’s just how it seems. (A dictionary definition of Stoic, by the way, is ‘a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.’)  

Why have I subsided into this maudlin state? Let me unravel this for you if you are one of those beginners we hope to encourage. To be a gardener in the UK you have to be ready for anything. Yes, there are certain rules for successful gardening but sometimes they are difficult to follow. So yes, plants grow best when you water them regularly or when you get a good balance of sunshine and rain. Indeed this summer hasn’t been bad for that for some plants. I was inveigled into taking on an allotment and the difference between an allotment and a back garden is that in your back garden your plants are there in front of you every time you go outside, screaming, “Water me, water me!” but on the allotment they are out of sight and therefore often out of mind.

The other year my beetroot were excellent; this year they are mostly half size (oh yes, this diatribe is on behalf of vegetable growers mostly.) Similarly with my onions. But sometimes it is not as straight forward as that so, for instance, when I do go over to the allotment I gaze with envy at my neighbours runner beans stretching up to a giant-land and then come home to my own back garden ones which look about three to five weeks behind – and I have been watering them!!!!  Maybe it’s the soil, maybe it’s the type of bean, but I am not a happy camper, sorry gardener!

The thing about gardening is that when you start out you really do, I believe, have to go into it with a long-term view that says I will keep at it year in, year out, through good years and bad years – and you will get both. There are people who seem to have green fingers so that everything they touch grows amazingly, but they seem few and far between. One of the highs is when you put in stuff and it grows better than anyone else’s and you get compliments. The smart gardener smiles and downplays it and knows the best motto is “win some, lose some”.

The smart characters among us are thinking, get good seed, use good soil, feed it and water it and it will be all well. Yes? You’ve forgotten blight and blackfly and bugs generally and…. the list goes on and on.  Some years it is a real battle. Somebody looked at my Nasturtiums recently and said, “How come you haven’t got any blackfly on them?”  Don’t know, they just passed by on the other side this year and left me alone. Yes, I did have to spray some of the broad beans earlier in the year, and the runner beans recently; maybe they caught whiff of it and ran!

And then there were potatoes! My wife grew some in a bag, except they didn’t grow! I casually put some in the ground and lo and behold, excellent crop! Why the difference? Not a clue! Now if you are a long-term gardener I’ll bet you are now busting to give us advice and explain these things. Well if you are a beginner, let me warn you: you may get one set of advice from one expert but I’m sure I could find an opposite one from some other ‘expert’.  

In the last year or so we’ve joined the ranks of those who grow Hydrangeas.(You may gather I’ve drifted into flowers now). They like a mix of sunshine and shade, said one group of BBC experts. No, says my local expert, they prefer open sun, leave them on the sunny side of your garden. Hmmmmm!  Then there was whether or not to lift Dahlia tubers at the end of the season. Monty Don writes a good article on the necessity of lifting them every year. My local expert says, “I leave mine in the ground and just give them a little straw protection”, so we did that this last year and they were wonderful!   My point? Believe who you will, suck it and see, rejoice when it works, but don’t cry when it doesn’t. Over the years I have tried growing various trees – and they have died for no obvious reason (get back you smart advisors!!) and yet there have been other times when I’ve put stuff in the ground without a tremendous amount of thought and they have flourished.

There used to be some jokey Latin tag ending in “nil carborundum” meaning ‘don’t let them grind you down’. I can’t remember the rest of it but it certainly applies to gardening. Never let the failures put you off because there are so many positives and successes that it’s worth persevering (I think life’s like that generally isn’t it!). Earlier this year I saw an advert in Gardening World for six completely different sorts of tomato plant and thought it would be fun to grow them – and so sent off for them. It has been absolutely fascinating watching them grow and as they approach ripeness, one of them has tiny but sweet orange tomatoes which have been a delight to the whole family who vie to pick them as soon as they are ready. But then the other day I had a snack lunch with three different sorts of tomato. Wonderful! Then there’s picking sweet corn and eating it within a couple of hours – a totally different veg from what you buy in shops!!!  

And so it goes on. Yes, there have been the failures – so shut up, grin and bear it, be a stoic and stop whingeing! – but there has been so much else that has been wonderful in the garden this year. Give it up? You must be joking!

Now, to conclude, I am aware that some of us may have only a postage stamp patch outside the backdoor and the thought of taking on an allotment is too scary, and so you read my rantings and think, yes, well, I’m not even on the starting blocks!   Hey, did you know that there is a new (well relatively recent) thing about being able to grow a vegetable garden in a square yard of soil. You don’t need to be big or clever, just thoughtful. As you are an Internet user try going to the following website where there is a lot of reading - but don’t let that put you off:  CLICK HERE

Have fun. And go for it, AND STICK WITH IT!