Thursday, 9 April 2015

Gardening Sins and Penitent Pigeons

When I was five years old, I entered a name the doll competition at my school summer fair. I studied the list of potential names and rejected any I recognised in favour of one which my emerging reading skills were unable to decipher. It might not be the most scientific approach to competition winning (in my defence, the field of dolls' names guessing is notoriously under-researched), but it worked; and as I scrambled onstage to collect the doll with the name I couldn't read, I felt like the luckiest child alive.


Chaenomeles speciosa 'Nivalis' in the Barn Garden
Maureen the doll travelled with me through childhood; a daily reminder that I had once been lucky. I haven’t won many prizes since then, but I do count myself as lucky, particularly when it comes to gardening. Garden luck comes in many guises; be it the weather, a happy chance seedling, or getting away with gardening misdemeanours. My gardening life has to fit around whatever else is going on at home and at work. Gardening calendars and years of horticultural training count for very little if the diary is filled with appointments with humans rather than plants. Worrying about a recurring failure to garden in a timely fashion is not going to help. Gardening should be fun and relaxing, not stressful. So I eat crops when they ripen and I try not to worry about tasks which will wait until tomorrow (or a week on Wednesday).


Aubretia living up to its reputation as a bee magnet
Sometimes the delay can seem endless. Instead of being planted when the bulbs arrived in autumn, beautiful Iris reticulata 'Blue Note' endured a twelve week sojourn on my office floor before I finally found the time to pop the emaciated bulbs into the soil on January 17th. At the time I was uncertain whether this was a planting or a burial, but guess what? The lovely Iris forgave my gardening sin. From planting to flowering in nine weeks. How lucky is that? 


Iris reticulata 'Blue Note'
I often meet new gardeners who are frightened of putting a foot wrong with their plants. Fear seems to hold back their gardening potential and reduces their enjoyment of their plots. I have always believed that plants will survive if it is at all possible, irrespective of the level of care they receive from me. Of course they need to be planted correctly in a suitable soil and location, and their dietary needs should be met, but they can be remarkably forgiving when we garden a little less than perfectly.


Crocus tommasinianus forgave a very late planting
Had there been an award for the most neglected fruit in England last year, my strawberries would surely have won first prize. Mulch was a distant memory, as were food and water. I didn't have high hopes of a single berry, but they proved me wrong. With luck like this, the pigeons will be sauntering past my cabbages, cooing, "We're sorry we ate your crops last year. Please don't hoe and net on our account, we've discovered the No Cabbage Diet and we only eat weeds. Oh yum... delicious dandelions.” 



Actually, my good fortune in the strawberry patch left me feeling deflated. Had I tended those strawberries, I would have been delighted that the care I had lavished on them had resulted in a bountiful harvest. Since they cropped well irrespective of any effort on my part, the question of why we bother to garden raised its ugly head. I garden because I love gardening. I may rely too heavily on luck and I might not garden according to the timeframe I learnt in order to pass my exams, but I remain optimistic that the plants will forgive me and that one day I might achieve perfect timing with all my gardening tasks. As for the strawberries, even if they don't need it, they will be receiving abundant care this year. After all, my garden might manage perfectly well without me for a while, but I don’t believe in pushing my luck.

42 comments:

  1. We all need a bit of luck for our garden efforts to be successful, when it is I call it my green fingers! I do like the Chaenomeles.

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    1. It is a lovely Chaenomeles - very simple and classic.

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  2. Great reflections in this post Sarah. I garden because I love it, not because I'm particularly good at it. It is a way for me to be creative. I am not a worrier when it comes to plants either, they do well...they don't do so well, they get dug up and moved, cut back and divided, put into pots for a year if necessary until I have a suitable spot for them. I also garden because I love wildlife.
    In this new garden I'm planning apple trees in pots for the patio and strawberries because I hope they'll be easy to grow!

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    1. I like your attitude a lot. You must be a very happy gardener. I look forward to reading about how you do with apples in pots. I have apricot and peach in pots and I must confess that they need a little more care than I have time to lavish upon them. That said, I wouldn't want to be without them.

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  3. What a nice post. You certainly got a lot more strawberries than I ever have! I also garden because I love to garden. I feel connected to the earth when I'm out digging in the soil. There is something very soul-soothing about that.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog this morning and leaving your lovely comment.

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    1. Hi Martha, I agree with you about the soul-soothing nature of gardening. There are times when gardening can take the edge off the tougher things in life.

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  4. I've never come across iris reticulata Blue Note before, what a gorgeous shade of blue. I like the deeper coloured ones rather than Katharine Hodgkin which always looks a little washed out to me. I'm sure that many plants must die due to too much care, it's so easy to mollycoddle them when they can meet most of their needs themselves. I think they end up as weakened specimens sometimes because of our intervention.

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    1. I agree with you about Katharine Hodgkin. I grew it in a previous garden and the paleness of it never ceased to displease me. That said, I saw a glorious clump of it at Anglesey Abbey and were it not for my previous run-in with it, it would have catapulted to the top of my must-have list. Like you, I prefer the reticulates with strong colour.

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  5. Your post reminds me of something written by one of my favorite garden writers, Allen Lacy, who says in The Gardener's Eye: "...each new stage of spring lures me farther and farther out of doors into the garden to work, to take the fragrant air of fresh dirt and sweet flowers, or just to think how fortunate I am to be a gardener."

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    1. Alain, that is a fab quotation! I must investigate Allen Lacy.

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  6. I think every gardener needs to have a healthy dose of optimism. Unfortunately my uncared for strawberries didn't crop well for me so I need to start again. But that's the beauty of it really isn't it, some you lose some you don't & a patch of land you can do your own thing in x

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    1. Optimism is key. Without it, we couldn't be gardeners!

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  7. Gardening is probably the only area of my life where I am not bothered about failing.... because I will always get another chance next year! And I have great pleasure in the equation: the more neglect of a plant = the more joy when it thrives after all! Enjoyed your post and the lovely Chaenomeles photo.

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  8. No point stressing about gardening - nature is something that we can't control. I think over the years we have maybe planted as many plants that have died as lived.

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    1. I was at a talk last night and at one point there was a slide of the Oct 1987 hurricane damage. It was devastating; and while there was nothing that could be done for all those felled trees, new opportunities sprung from the gaps they left behind. You are right - why stress? A hurricane or a long, harsh winter, cannot be controlled.

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  9. Beautiful flowers that I have never seen the real here.

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  10. I am looking forward to gardening here, too...and I can only hope I have luck and my plants forgive me, too lol! Hopped over from the Over 40 Blogging Group...

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    1. I look forward to reading about your forgiving plants, Linda!

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  11. I love your casual attitude about gardening for enjoyment! That is probably what's missing in my own efforts - nervous planting and over-watching and stressful vibes have only resulted in a dying mess so far! I'll try again this year - but MAKE myself relax about it!

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    1. RELAX! Buy yourself a hammock and stare at the sky instead of the plants!

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  12. I think I too verge on the over attention, in fact, I don't think....I know!
    It's all about striking that right balance and when you've a job and home to run, it's not always so easy.
    Those strawberries look delicious, by the way! Well done neglect :)

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    1. It is very tricky to strike a balance. I am in awe of you for successfully managing a home, job and over-attention!

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  13. Plants are so forgiving of our mistreatment. I once found a grocery bag full of long-neglected Hydrangeas in my mom's garage. I planted them with a "what is there to lose?" attitude, not expecting much. They expressed their gratitude by not only living, but thriving.

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    1. That's a great find! The only thing we ever find in grocery bags here are sprouty old spuds and liquid cucumbers.

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  14. Visiting from Over 40 Bloggers....I think 'gardening because we love it' is really why we garden...regardless of the bounty and all our garden luck, we just love it don't we!

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    1. Exactly - and thank goodness we do, because I suspect that we also garden because we can't stop ourselves gardening. If we didn't enjoy it, imagine how miserable we would be!

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  15. I´m addicted to gardening, despite the many failures.

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    1. It is an addiction. This winter, the desperation of blog writers in snow-covered parts of the U.S.A. and Canada to get outside and garden was palpable.

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  16. I loved your doll story. I think if you garden from anyplace other that love your garden can feel it, but when you garden from love it can be very forgiving. xo Laura

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  17. Don't you think if the garden has been steadily tended we can mistreat it for a season and get away with it.....as for planting times.....I plant when I feel like it and have never had a problem crop from it.....Your Blue Note Iris has blown my mind.....it's so unusual and beautiful. I will be looking for some here!

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    1. It is a wonderful little Iris. There are still a few in flower here. I agree, there is a limit to garden neglect. Too much, and we would be the proud owners of a small blackberry farm.

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  18. ahh gardens, two parts luck to one part skill. It all evens out in the end though. As you say, if you're enjoying being there that's what counts.

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  19. Hello Sarah, a good lesson to learn for me, here, and that's to relax and let go a little. I get terribly flustered if I'm late for planting or if things are behind or not doing as well as I'd hoped. Half the time it's a game of patience and what is missed or doesn't work so well one year can be remedied the next. I garden because I love the results and it relieves stress (while also creating it - bizarrely).

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    1. That is bizarre! Perhaps it is a form of stress-displacement therapy for you.

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  20. Oh, Sarah! Lucky you with the magic touch! I lavished care on my strawberries. I provided them with an expensive, beautiful raised bed with multiple tiers for them to grow upon. I did everything right, but somehow they became diseased, stunted and refused to produce fruit. I tried three times and gave up! Sometimes it is meant to be, and sometimes not! Meanwhile, I can go to a you-pick-em farm a few miles from me and pick them by the pailfuls.

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    1. I love the phrase "you-pick-em"! I haven't heard that before. We call them "pick your own" farms. Typical gardener - if at first you don't succeed.... ! It's quite a major job to plant strawberries three times. I'm impressed with your patience.

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