About 2 years ago, in 2010, I found myself watching a gardening programme and actually hearing the words. Until then I’d never seen the point of all that ‘messing about’. Don’t get me wrong, I’d bought the occasional plant but then just put it in the garden and ignored it. I’d never planted anything out or grown anything myself.
My husband showed more promise, managing to muster the energy to plant a few things into the actual ground but he wasn’t really interested in gardening either. I’d been given a clematis (Daniel Deronda) some years before as a wedding gift from work and my husband had to plant that too; it was pretty but it just didn’t hold my attention. Now every year I’m grateful he saved it as it flowers like mad — big purple blooms that usually appear around my wedding anniversary in May, although there was no sign of any that early this year!
Unfortunately I think part of the reason I was interested at that particular point 2 years ago was because my house and garden had been completely taken over by a builder who seemed to want to move in with us. A sense of the perverse always appealing to me, with building rubble piled high in the front and back garden, it was the one thing I couldn’t do, so of course, it was exactly what I wanted to do.
As a youngster I thought my favourite season was winter, typical teenage moody Kate Bush days. As an adult I’d just ignored the garden as a last thing on the list of jobs when doing up a house. So as you can imagine I did not come into this with a stock of information. I had never done any gardening and I didn’t know anyone close by who was a gardener. No kindly grandpa or auntie to show me the ropes and the rewards.
I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on something that may fail, or I might not enjoy, or more likely something I’d just get bored of. So I bought a bag of compost and managed to get some free seed trays from a local garden centre. I found a few packets of seeds that I’d been given as freebies at a food show a few years before. Stocked with this stunning arsenal I managed to get a few tiny little plants to grow. Only gardeners can ever know the absolute, unadulterated delight I found at being able to make that happen. I proudly showed everyone my seedlings. My lovely husband just about managed to stop me from calling the local press to see if they wanted to cover the event. But this lack of national recognition didn’t dampen my interest.
Over that first year I mainly raided our food for seeds. I took the seeds from melons, goji berries, capsicums, chillies, and anything else I could think of and planted them after washing and drying them. Most things got going but it was what happened next that I struggled with — I lost all of my cucumbers to slugs. All the rest had been planted too late in the year to establish and they never fruited or flowered before the winter killed them off. I had no idea about protecting the plants and, to be honest, with my building work entering its second millennium, I didn’t really have the time to find out.
Last spring I was determined to get ahead of the game, so I planted vegetable seeds in trays indoors to get them going. I think I might have been a bit over zealous planting them in early February but then, even worse, I rushed them outside before the cold weather was over and they suffered for that. After evicting the builder in June I was free to re-claim my gardens. I cleared the front garden of rubble. Bit by bit, an hour here and there I dug it up, sifted out all the rubble and building refuse, raked it all over and ended up with a patch of mud. The neighbours gave me very funny looks. I then did the same to the back garden. By the time I’d done that it was July. So I got every seed and bulb that I had skulking around the place and I put them all in pots outside the back door. When they started sprouting I planted them out into the front garden. A good start, but late in the year.
By the end of the summer the whole area was covered in beautiful flowers. I had lots of compliments about how lovely they looked but also about how unusual a garden it was. My novice ignorance had helped to make something a bit different because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I’d mixed wind anemone with cosmos, cornflowers and lavender, courgettes and dahlias, nasturtiums and poppies. The shapes and sizes of the plants were as random as my knowledge. I hadn’t realised how high the cosmos would get so it towered over the sweet peas that refused to get going that late in the year. My courgette produced fruit that kept getting eaten by slugs before it matured enough for me to pick.
However throughout the past few years I’m pleased to say some things have survived my scythe-shaped learning curve. A few tiny Japanese Maples that were delivered just as roots somehow found a happy place and have thrived. My out-laws are the only people I know that are into gardening (I’d never realised until I got interested myself!) and they gave us a tiny little raspberry plant. It produced 3 raspberries which I was too disappointed to pick. Luckily the birds didn’t share my ingratitude and they happily gobbled them up then re-seeded them along one bed which is now covered with more and more towering raspberry canes every year. I use them in cooking but my children love them and very few make it to the house.
My knowledge is very slowly increasing. I’m definitely still a beginner but I’ve managed to start growing a small amount of an increasing range of plants including fruit trees, herbs, salad, vegetables, berries, flowers and grasses. Looking around my garden I’m really proud of how much I’ve learnt and achieved. I’m loving trying out new plants and finding where they seem most comfortable. It’s been quite a journey of discovery from a completely indifferent start to where I am now and here I am 2 years on, as shocked as anyone to find that I’ve asked for a greenhouse for my upcoming birthday. I know! Not perfume or chocolates or even a spa break. No, I’ve got a very different kind of mud treatment in mind.