Chelsea’s annual glitterati of gardening is just a few weeks away. A cornucopia of the great, good and glamorous of the horticultural world.
Can’t beat it for armchair gardening.
You can turn horticultural pundit in the comfort of your home. Opining on growers, blooms, garden design and revelling in the gardening secrets of celebrities. There may be RHS spin-offs but none captures the glamour of gardening like the real Chelsea Flower Show.
Of course, I’ve never actually been to ‘Chelsea’. Not sure I want to break the telegenic spell shuffling amongst the crowds.
That’s the thing about gardening, is it’s less glamorous than the curated world of gardening on TV, in books and social media would have you believe. Even gardens you can visit are manicured for show.
Nothing wrong with putting on a good show. You’ve got to have something to aspire to. Although a little more small print might save us mere mortals from despondency and abject failure.
The biggest lessons in life can be found in a garden. Literally.
What lives, what dies and what thrives. If you want lessons in humility you could do yourself a favour and take up gardening.
Every year I’m more respectful of folk that live off the land. People who farm land so others can eat. Of growers of plants for their beauty and enjoyment. To grow successfully on a consistent basis takes skills, know-how and tenacity to keep going when nature turns against you.
I’m reading ‘A Wood of One’s Own’ by Ruth Pavey – perfect for us romantic ruralists. She buys a neglected orchard and woodland and sets about making it her own. Oh, such naivety – when it comes to mother nature she has its own game for you to play with increasing levels of difficulty.
Techies might think they invented the ultimate games but nature has been upping its game from the start.
This past year has been pretty challenging gardening at home. Weird weather patterns, erratic gardening schedules do not make for horticultural harmony. And just as you get one bit sorted there’s something else that needs your attention.
For us, there’s always a mix of home gardening and land management. Infestations of gorse, bramble and grass grubs can almost render me to tears of frustration. It’s always a toss-up between deadheading and preening or warding off the inevitable march of nature’s thugs. Wielding heavy duty machinery and careful tending.
There’s little glamour in that.
Just a grounding in the laws of nature. Grappling with the urgent and important.
For a novice gardener with a low tolerance for minutiae, it’s the ultimate challenge.
Great gardening is a habit. A discipline. A mashup of science, arts and crafts. But unlike other creative pursuits, you can pack away in a cupboard till inspiration strikes again. A garden won’t be packed away – at least not for long.
At your peril, you leave your plot unattended and untended. It’s a salutary lesson if you dare.
Depending on the time of year and unattended garden can turn feral in hours. It’s how courgettes turn to marrows. How buds turn to blooms. Seedlings turn to weed infestation. How bunches of grapes, bushes of berries and prized strawberries will disappear with the birds.
Turn your back for long and your well-tended garden can succumb to drought, be wind broken or pelted by raindrops. Your beanstalks and sunflowers can break free from their anchors.
All those brassicas carefully cocooned doesn’t stop butterflies landing nor their offspring feasting. Canes designed to give your delphiniums lessons in deportment can fail too. Asparagus tips poking through the earth can climb dizzying proportions in the blink of an eye.
However much protection you plan. How much careful labelling you do. Turn your back in on your patch and it will sulk and rebel to teach you a lesson, or three.
Amongst the pain, pestilence and anguish there are the bright spots. The horticultural wins. The garden delights that spark new optimism and fortitude. Or nothing more primal than the gardening habit that can’t be broken.
After a soul-crushing spring and a drought-ridden summer, it was two buckets of earthy crops that have worked their magic this year. The humble spud and distinctly unglamorous carrots have re-grounded my gardening habit.
Having cast the carrot seed more in frustration and buried the potatoes in defiance of the weather gives the garden the last laugh at my expense.
Like a sugar addict to the chocolate bar and an over buyer to the shopping mall, I’m heading back to reclaim the kitchen garden. To begin the circuitous process of the seasons and cycles of growing.
To take the entertainment of gardening into the real world again.
Rural idylls don’t become so unless you live them. Romance is dead without true love. Gardens cease to be unless you keep creating. It’s nature’s way to resist and be recalcitrant to test your commitment and staying power.
After 10 years or serious gardening, I still feel a beginner. Every season is a start of something unique. A chance to dig in and begin again.