Friday, 13 June 2014

Garden Rebels

When I was a teenager, a boy told me that I was a rebel. I must have been doing something wondrously hair-raising at the time, like playing Karate Champ under the influence of half a bar of chocolate and a bag of chewy sweets, but the words struck a chord. I rather fancied myself as a rebel in spite of a gaping absence of anything to actually rebel against. If only I had gardened in my teens, I would have found conventions aplenty against which to mount a rebellion.


I have just moved into a new office and with me came 200 or so precious gardening books. As I lovingly arranged them on shelves, I reread excerpts (the probable cause of my lack of blog posts of late) and realised how laden with rules these tomes are; and what are rules for? Exactly. 



Of course, any act of rebellion against conventional wisdom has to be well thought through. It would be folly to fly in the face of centuries of experience without knowledge. Leaves might yellow and plants could die, or at the other extreme, invasive species might take over and run amok through our borders and beyond. But if we intelligently question accepted wisdom, we stand a chance of experiencing the wonderfully exhilarating buzz of rebellion whenever we veer away from best practice (provided that everything goes swimmingly).  



Gardeners are a rebellious bunch. Just think of Christopher Lloyd’s use of colour at Great Dixter or the green walls we see adorning the sides of shops and hotels. This fascination with questioning best practice or fine taste can result in exciting strides away from convention and is one of the reasons why gardening can be so interesting. If we were to garden for a hundred years, we would still not know everything and if we did, some adventurous gardener would soon break with tradition and we would have to reconsider what we thought we knew. 


Until recently, we were advised to place broken crocks at the bottom of our plant pots. Then those rebels at Which? Gardening questioned our plant pot heritage and trialled plants with and without crocks in their pots and guess what? Nothing terrible happened to their Million Bells Trailing Yellow plants without those magical crocks and to cut a long scientific story short, we are now advised not to pop crocks in pots. 



This places the rebels in the gardening community uncomfortably on the horns of a dilemma. It is all very well to say that no crocks is the new crocks, but in order to rebel, clarity is required. How can we fly in the face of convention when convention keeps changing its face? On a selfish note, I have no issues with crocks since I have used recycled polystyrene in pots for years. It may do little for my perched water table, but I like it because it is light and it fills big containers cheaply. I see no reason to change, which is potentially a problem in itself. Is this rebellion or a worrying new development? Perhaps I am not a rebel after all; I may simply have Belligerent Old Gardener Syndrome (BOGS). 



P.S. It is always exciting to learn about new ideas and I’m really interested to hear about how you break with gardening conventions. You never know, you may be saving a fellow gardener from BOGS.
and... 
We are seeing so many bees this summer! All the photos in this post were taken in the farmhouse garden where Geranium, Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum', Knautia macedonica and even fading Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' flowers are top bee magnets.  

41 comments:

  1. Hi Sarah,
    Having just moved location for the umpteenth time over the past three years I finally have a small garden to tend once more. I like your point of view of being a gardening rebel and I'm certainly going to have to come up with some ideas to make the garden a place of sanctuary for myself and wildlife as well as make it feel in keeping with the house that came with it....mid nineteenth century victorian stone built with original features. Difficult with such a small area especially as my first task is the installation of a ten by eight work shed!
    What plants are already present are certainly attracting bees and at least gives me something to build upon.
    All the best
    John

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi John, your new home sounds delightful. A garden, no matter how small, can be such a valuable resource for wildlife. I hope you are going to post on your progress - if so, I look forward to reading about it Good luck with that shed!

      Delete
  2. Hi Sarah,

    Great post and one I can relate to. With regard to colour I have no rules. I believe with age you become I little more relaxed with most things. If plants reseed and they are useful to bees and butterflies I leave them, if there is a colour clash, does it really matter ??

    Like you I fill large pots with recycled bits and pieces, basically whatever I find in the shed....and as you say the lighter the better :)

    I learnt a lot from my father and grand-father.........they both had beautiful cottage gardens.....there were no rules.

    Lots of bees here.....mason, small garden, carder.....but sadly at the moment the larger bees seem to be missing. Hopefully as summer progresses I might see them in the garden. There is certainly plenty in bloom to attract them....lovely Angelica being a good example.

    Enjoy the sunshine and have a great weekend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Cheryl, thank you. I always feel sorry for people who obsessively hoe every seedling and miss out on the exciting plant combinations created by self-seeders. I have read that putting plastic bottles in amongst the compost in pots lightens the load and you lose the perched water table issue. My plastic bottles all end up cut in half as slug pubs in the kitchen garden, so it will be a while before I can give the plastic bottle trick a go. We are still seeing larger bees here, although not so many as earlier in the year. I hope you see some soon.

      Delete
    2. Great tip, tks Sarah, one I shall be using.............

      Delete
  3. Very well said Sarah, and great post! Once one knows the 'rules' you can modify or even break it as and when it suits. Gardening would be a very monotonous and regimented activity if we are not allowed to think beyond the norm and must only stick with what's the accepted norm.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! You are right about needing to know the rules. To break rules you didn't know existed and be continually successful, you need to be lucky; and if I were that lucky, I would buy a lottery ticket.

      Delete
  4. Awesome Post Sarah I think some rules are made to be broken now and again and I only dewed near my fruit area otherwise the stingers take over going to try mulching if I can get some as I have a felid at the back of me full of nettles and thistles would rather have a flower meadow any day

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Linda. Meadows are beautiful and I am not a great fan of being stung by nettles, but they have tremendous value for wildlife. Enjoy mulching!

      Delete
  5. A rule is a rule only as long as it's helpful - at least in the kitchen and the garden. I'd never heard of polystyrene in the bottom of large pots, but will definitely try it out. I have a lovely, enormous Chinese pot on the veranda. It has sat empty for years because I couldn't bring myself to fill it with the amount of soil it would require - I'd never, ever be able to move it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish I could break rules in the kitchen, but I stick rigidly to recipes, only changing things around to make the recipe gluten free. I think it's because I have absolutely no faith in my own taste buds!

      You could always try mixing plastic bottles with the compost to make it lighter. I don't know if it works - I've never tried it myself, but it sounds like a good idea.

      Delete
  6. We are seeing so many bees here too - lovely photos! I don't know or just forget many of the conventions, so I have no idea if I am breaking them or not! ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh I'm so pleased you are seeing a lot of bees too. This seems to be a great year for them!

      Delete
  7. Hmmm...it might be worth it to bone up one the rules just to get that "exhilarating buzz of rebellion". I can tell that you refuse to let them BOGS you down.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Personally I don't think there are any gardening rules - only opinions. You do what works for you. I'm not sure which rules we break as we don't take notice of any!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Most rules are stooopid. I think not rubbing poison ivy all over your body or plopping water-loving plants into the middle of a desert are good rules, but they are really just common sense. The only rule is religiously follow is "To thine own self and garden be true". Always think think think before blindly doing what some one tells you to do. They could be wrong or have poop for brains.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice one. I will stick to your rule since you are not a poop-brain.

      Delete
  10. I have read hundreds of gardening books over the years - read all the advice then promptly ignored it. My style of gardening is a bit chaotic clashing colours etc but I like it that way - I have worked out my own rules and I seem to be doing just fine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clearly reading loads of gardening books is important - not least because it's fun. Developing your own style is even more fun. It's a true win-win situation.

      Delete
  11. I think we need to gain a bit of knowledge in order to have the confidence to go out and promptly break the rules! That said, my style of gardening is very much trial and error, after 15 years of gardening here in UK, I am still amazed of what I can achieve in my tiny London garden compared to gardening in Norway. I have many plants that luckily haven’t read the books either, so they don’t know they are not supposed to survive in UK temperatures.
    Like you, I also use recycled polystyrene in my containers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The great thing about London is the shelter from the worst frosts - it opens up so many possibilities which won't necessarily be covered in UK gardening books. You are right about gaining knowledge and with it, confidence. It means we can often second-guess the impact of the way we garden, which in turn means that we are more likely to be able to bend those rules without causing a catastrophe in the borders.

      Delete
  12. For a long time I gardened by the trial and error method. Only when I wanted to become more sophisticated and began to read garden books did I learn how many "rules" I was breaking. There are facts and then there are opinions. Facts we should follow or we will end up with dead plants. Opinions are only that. One "rule" I read was that one should never have more than a single Japanese maple. At the time I already had about thirteen of them, so I was hopelessly far gone on that one. I have since added another half dozen. So I guess I am in full blown rebellion!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are a rebel through and through. If we followed the "one" rule, we would never have any national collections.

      Delete
  13. I'm another one who uses polystyrene in the bottom of large pots, it takes far too much compost to fill it otherwise. I'm not one for following rules, especially where gardening is concerned. I'll try something and if it doesn't work, I'll try something else. How else are you going to learn what does well and what doesn't?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All our plots are different which means there must always be an element of trial and error. Like you say, there is always another method to try. Gardening is a little bit like primary school maths in this respect.

      Delete
  14. Yes, I too use polystyrene in the bottom half of my pots, it certainly saves on the compost. Rules are there to be broken, I just go with what suits me and my garden best, even then, it's the plants that know best.
    Thanks for leaving a message on my post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pauline - and welcome. Thank you for taking the time to leave a message. I agree with you about suiting yourself. This is certainly true of timings in our garden and very true when it comes to planting spring bulbs, which are always plopped into the soil very late and still come good.

      Delete
  15. A very thought provoking post, Sarah ! I think one of the things I enjoy most about gardening is that because it is all mine & my partner's, then we don't have to please anyone but ourselves. So many other aspects of life demand that rules are obeyed and followed, often when we don't want to, so the garden represents freedom. I suppose we follow lots of conventions, like mowing the lawn regularly and removing weeds, but it is because we want to. Little rebels without a clue !!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Jane. You make a good point about a garden representing freedom - and that freedom extends to the choice of whether to follow conventions or not.

      Delete
  16. A great post. There are so many things we do in the garden because we are told that is the way it has to be done. The rule I break is washing plant pots. I never bother. I don' t put crocks in the bottom of the pot either.
    We have never had so many bumble bees. Nests everywhere.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I am not a great washer of pots. If I could sneak them into the dishwasher without serious repercussions, I would. Seed trays get a squirt of cleaner though and I am fastidious about keeping secateurs, loppers and shears disinfected. Brilliant news about your bumble bees!

      Delete
  17. Great post. I think one of the problems specific to gardening is that many of the rules are right in some places and wrong in others. What is right in my sunny, rather dry clay is obviously wrong in wet, peaty soil - and there are dozen of these variables.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Too true, Alain - and often we can see these variations within one garden.

      Delete
  18. Beautiful writing here friend! I would agree with you that being a bit of a rebel in the garden is the way we ultimately learn. And I am so glad to see the bees have come to your garden!!! I grow veggies up front which is not very common around these parts but I have grow where there is sun! A happy week to you! Nicole

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Nothing wrong with growing veggies up front - show the neighbours the way! I bet they're green with envy at harvest time!

      Delete
  19. This is a great post. My biggest act of rebellion was digging up 90% of our front yard for flowers (and a few vegetables). This violates not so much a gardening rule but a landscaping convention. I haven't been carted off yet, though. More bees here as well this year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. What a fabulous act of rebellion - there is nothing wrong with unconventional! It's great to know that you are seeing an increase in bee numbers. Good news!

      Delete
  20. Hi Sarah, I would say I am more ignorant rather than rebellious of the rules. I go with my "gut feeling" when there are conflicting choices and it usually works out. I recently discovered the trick with polystyrene in the bottom of large pots too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clearly your gut is in tune with the plants! I must confess that the most satisfying bit about polystyrene (apart from the snapping sound it makes) is the sound of the roots of annuals tearing away from it at the end of a growing season. I probably shouldn't admit this!

      Delete