When I was growing up, my parents always had beautiful gardens. My mother invested a lot of time into making them look lovely, an activity she really enjoyed. But whilst I could appreciate the flowers and having a well-kept lawn to play on, I didn’t get the appeal myself. The idea of spending time outside, often in the cold and drizzle, weeding, planting, watering, tidying – I could never understand where the enjoyment in that was.
Fast forward to my first shared house post-university. Suddenly gardens became important to us, and instead of being just something that we stole things from on drunken nights out, we realised their worth as an extension of the house and a place we wanted to look good. I remember spending ages making the back garden look half decent for our housemate’s 21st birthday party, although Charlie Dimmock we weren’t; none of us could lift the bags of gravel we bought to cover up the bare earth, so we had to enlist the help of an unwilling boyfriend.
When S and I bought our current house, the garden hadn’t been touched in years and was simply a bare concrete square, with an empty flowerbed in one corner and a rose that was alive despite the previous owner’s best efforts to kill it by allowing the stems to be choked by a metal grille. All we had to make it look a little better were plants inherited from my parents’ house move.
As the house was in such bad condition we had to concentrate on that first, but once it had been licked into shape, we were able to turn our efforts to the outdoors and hopefully stop our neighbours from awarding us the Worst Kept Garden trophy for the third year in a row.
I wrote last year about our first efforts with becoming proper gardeners. As well as caring for the lovely plants and flowers we inherited, I also had a yen to grow things that could be eaten. My approach was rather haphazard a “suck it and see” mentality, but there were some triumphs along the way.
This year I have tried to be more methodical and do things by the book, although I am still very much a rookie, which is why my squash seedlings died when I moved them outside without first hardening them off. I also need to be more cunning in the war against slugs and snails and other timorous beasties, and start saving my plants from total massacre by putting coffee grounds or eggshells around the soil. But the courgettes are flourishing, the rocket and lettuce have yielded us an actual bowl of salad, and the mint I grew from seed is going to be able to provide good juleps very, very soon.
As well as the thrill I get from producing food, I now enjoy the mundane things like weeding the beds, deadheading the flowers, tying up the climber. Watering the plants in the evening gives me time to look around, see how they’re doing, make sure they don’t need more sun or shade or fertiliser.
Now, finally, I get it; I understand why my mother spent so much time outdoors, why she would read through gardening books and the gardening section of the Saturday paper, why we visited garden centres so regularly. Your garden is another room in the house, and if you care about the rooms inside and how they look, the same applies to outside. I’m not suggesting that we all aim to be Capability Brown or Rachel de Thame. A garden doesn’t need perfect lawns, flowers that bloom impressively all the time or water features. All you need is a little effort, some love and a willingness to give things a go. A clump of rosemary in a pot is enough to turn the most boring outdoor space into one that you want to spend time in.
I realised that I am now, inexorably, a gardener when an email from a friend with the subject line “I have lavender plants for you” popped into my inbox yesterday and my heart lifted. The die is cast. The (gardening) gloves are on. Bring on the compost.