Sunday 12 January 2020

What makes a gardener?

What greater pleasure than to breed a new plant
I don’t mean what makes a successful gardener, I mean what makes many people just want to grow plants. Some of us are so besotted we think of nothing else. I write about both gardeners at home and those who dedicate their whole professional lives to it
Is there a ‘green gene’?
I wonder how much our love of growing is genetic. Clearly some of us will have characteristics that predispose us to it. But is there some arrow perhaps shot when some of our hunter- gatherer ancestors started to sow and plant plants?
Involved in horticultural education I would interview young people whose sole desire would to be gardener. 
On the other hand mature students would declare their long desire to garden even on their retirement from another profession. 
Alan Warwick  - equally proud of his spuds

My friend Alan Warwick - I wrote about the Chelsea apple tree he bred and his insightful theory about how water gets to the top of a large tree -  was a very senior ICI executive who on his retirement enrolled on my one year craft gardening course, bought a small nursery and now thirty years later at ninety one gardens all day.
No dig gardener - digging? (No just lifting)
In my own case I got the bug at the age of 14. Up to that time weeding my parent’s garden was an unwelcome chore and not a joy. We moved to a new house with an overgrown garden and as I have written before, my parents (to my juvenile mind) did not have a clue or inclination what to do. I took it upon myself to restore the  garden. It was digging out couch grass and the smell of the soil that turned my green gene on.
The pleasures of gardening
I thought it would be easy write about the joy of gardening. Not so. For every gardener it is something different. For every gardener there is a different garden
Gardening is a spectrum running from pure hatred to a reason for living. It runs from intense physical activity to easy gentle reflection. It contrasts precise manipulative garden maintenance to communion with nature.
Best give a few examples

* I know a lady whose idea of pure heaven is to lie in a warm bath and study a seed catalogue.

*I myself fall asleep thinking of what gardening I will do next day or mull over the future of what I have started
The thrill when a difficult plant flowers

*Gardening brings moments of pure joy. The first time you see new roots on a cutting will bring an ecstasy never to be repeated although always bringing huge satisfaction. A first new flower on a precious plant just the  same.
And cooking them too

*Eating your first homegrown tomato. You own vegetables however manky will always be delicious.

*The feel of fresh air and solitary reflection.

*The creation of a new or changed garden in your own image

*Transforming in a day by hard labour a weedy patch into a beautiful picture. (A way of gardening that I myself do not approve)

*Watching an ever changing image as the seasons unfold or merely when a dull patch transforms as the sun shines

*The allotmenteer who leaves his worries behind and meets his mates.

*The warm feelings when you share your passion and/or show off your garden

*Getting your hands dirty and the smell of the soil

*The endless progression as you learn something new

I love this quote from The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson 
"My garden is a little corner of the earth I can control, small enough to comprehend where I can make things right"
What makes a good gardener?
It does not really matter.
A very good gardener
 When I set out to write this post I had the intention of offering a few pointers to what special attributes a good gardener possesses. When I started to list these features it all fell apart. They don’t hang together. Superb gardeners proceed in diametrically opposite directions. 
For every attribute I can think of, I go to a good gardener who is different
Brenda gardens when it is not wet, windy or cold
I would like to think I am a good gardener myself and yet every day Brenda tells me how I am not
Perhaps the greatest thing about gardening is that we are all different and so are our gardens and the pleasures we get from them. You can be a garden lover - even an expert - without lifting a finger!
Some gentle scarifying?
Perhaps a universal attribute of really good gardeners should be that they recognise the skills and endeavour of others. Things might not always be to their personal taste but quality shines through.
(Except that a few are  scathing and intolerant. Gardening for some brings out our worst competitive instincts)

Where wise men fear to go fools step in. So purely for your entertainment here is my opinionated offering of things that make a good gardener
Sue Garrett is a superb gardener and a brilliant blogger
Doing jobs at the right time - not only on a seasonal basis but day to day decisions,  Is it dry and windy?  -  hoe. Is the soil wet? - plant (not if you are a fluffer). If it is a still day consider spraying.

When doing routine maintenance don’t just tidy for the day but consider long term development. 
Inspection time
A good gardener’s plants will be healthy. He might never spray but by doing things right his plants grow well.

Understanding watering. It takes a good while to learn. You get to the stage that just a casual glance will tell you a plant is in need.

Listen to advice but make your own decisions and always be prepared to try something different.

Love you soil, even if that means leaving it alone. All soils are different and your own deserves your understanding

For many gardening tasks such as weed control a ‘little and often’ approach might be best. (not for watering)

A good gardener listens to his plants and treats them accordingly

Be generous to others. The best way to preserve your plants is to give some away.
Just as well I gave Peter Williams this rare dicentra

In the last month of his life philosopher Franz Kafka with terminal TB retired to the country. He said he had never known such happiness as tending the garden at that time.


Read how Alan Warwick raised a sensational new weeping tree

Learn the correct name of that yellow dicentra



  1. You do flatter me! I think another attribute is to always keep,learning, trying new things and find your own right way.

  2. I have always felt that patience is what makes us gardeners. You may have your creative vision, you may plan and work it all you like but nothing will give instantaneous results. We have to be able to watch and wait. Then savour the moment when it all comes to fruition.
    If there is a gardener gene then it must occur alongside the patience gene because there is no instant gratification in this hobby

    1. Sorry for this late reply Jim, you were lost in the spam!
      Your point is exactly what I should have made myself!
      One of my pleasures is to take on long term transformations.
      In propagation many thongs take a long time to come to fruition but when you have gardened a long time as one thing goes into a long pipeline an old venture pops out

  3. Do you think good Gardeners have lived twice? Second time round they have learnt from their mistakes!

  4. I think what makes a gardener is being able to feel joy in the garden.

    1. Absolutely true Jason. I am feeling the lack of joy in my garden at the moment as it is seriously flooded!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...