I love gardening. I love sitting on the ground in the sun removing weeds, dead-heading flowers or re-training a clematis. I love pruning my roses.
I also hate gardening. I hate the frustration of seeds not germinating. I hate the uncertainty of how soon is too soon to start plants off indoors for the new year. I hate not knowing how warm is too warm, or how much sun too little, or what’s the right amount of water. I hate not knowing whether to germinate seeds on my east-facing windowsill or my west-facing windowsill or no windowsill at all. I hate the impatience of waiting weeks for germination and getting only mushrooms.
I hate the effort of hardening plants off. I hate having to carry them back and forth between outside and inside for days, and then repeat it with more plants a bit later. Genuinely. I’m chronically ill and carrying plants outside is just extra effort on my already aching body. But I also hate having to wait until the last frost date in April before planting anything at all. I want to plant in January and welcome the new year with new growth.
I’ve learnt some stuff though.
Don’t use toilet roll inners to germinate seeds. They’re too narrow relative to their height, and the compost dries out really quickly. But if you keep watering it, or cover it with plastic to retain moisture, you’ll just grow tiny mushrooms. Don’t use egg trays either, for the same reason. Next year, I’m either going to buy biodegradable plant pots (the ones you can allegedly plant straight into the ground) or get plastic seedling trays on the grounds that I’ll be re-using them year after year.
If you’re going to use plastic covering to create a mini-greenhouse effect, buy a proper seedtray, rather than using plastic bags. The bags are harder to vent, harder to control, and sometimes seem slightly translucent and so may be blocking sunlight.
When hardening plants off, wait till they’re old enough. This was biggest my failure this year. I forgot to wait until they had three or four true leaves, and thought that they just needed to germinate in warmth and then go out into a cold frame with sheep’s wool to protect them from frost. That didn’t work. Barely any of the plants I’ve started off indoors and moved out have grown much since they moved out. But then, my seeds planted outdoors haven’t done much either. Maybe I’m just too impatient.
When getting soil for raised beds, really loose soil with leca beads will dry out very quickly. Add plenty of compost, but buy proper compost. Or wait many years for your household food waste to rot properly before trying to make a raised bed using very loose soil.
Allotments aren’t an abundance of joy. They’re slow, effortful, frustrating and frequently fruit- and veg- less. They make me want to cry, and I don’t even have to travel to get to mine, because it’s in my back garden.
I think the biggest things I need to learn in terms of gardening are to a) do it properly the first time; b) give things time to grow; and c) watch nature and learn about her. I should get the right seed planting equipment. I should get the right soil mix. I should give compost the right conditions. But honestly, it’s hard work, and I don’t have the capacity.
The biggest thing I have learnt is the seriousness of sin. Gardening was the first job given to Adam and Eve. We’re literally meant to tend and care for God’s creation to release its abundance into our lives. But the sin of Adam and Eve rippled into all creation and is repeated by every person over and over again. The result is a broken world that has weeds and thorns and droughts and floods, and also has people like me who don’t adequately prepare for, in order to work successfully with, the rhythm of the seasons and the cycle of life. Sin has also resulted in broken, painful, tired bodies that don’t always have the capacity to do what nature needs to bring out her best for us.
I need to be patient in those times when I fail. I need to record my failures in order to learn from them. I need to watch what nature does and contemplate for next year how to work more better with nature.
Already I am impatient for next year in order to start again with seedlings. The frustration is mounting again. I’ve never been good at dealing with frustration. But this is just one year. There will be another one. This year, let me watch what I have got, learn to better, and remember that all the pain and frustration that is ultimately due to sin is why God takes sin so seriously.
My second major reflection is that we aren’t meant to learn on our own. We’re meant to learn from other people; to be taught by those ahead of us in life. That would save a lot of frustration and mean that, instead of having to relearn basic tasks every generation, we can build on the lessons that the last generation learnt, who themselves built on the one before. In this context, tradition is important, as it provides a structure on which to build. Tearing down tradition seems radical, but too often it is purely destructive. Occasionally a tradition is built off into an unsound angle and needs to be taken down and restarted, but not all tradition is unsound; much is the basic fabric of society which by utilising rather than destroying allows us to build further and make real progress.