Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Nonsense of What & When!




Recently, a colleague of mine commented that you only ever really need one annual subscription to a gardening magazine, as the tips and tricks, together with the ‘what to do now’ sections tend to repeat themselves with an almost same week accuracy, year on year. Of course, he was spot on. I once spent about 5 years tearing out the ‘what to do now’ sections of various gardening magazines and collating them in a folder. I know, very sad of me! Anyway, they acted as a useful reminder of what jobs I should’ve been considering in the various gardens I worked in. However, over time, I too noticed an obvious repetition of articles and tips... even using the same photos!



A small portion of my borders last year.
Now though, having spent many years gardening professionally, and having taught countless students the horticultural basics, I find myself having journeyed far beyond gardening as a pursuit allied to any calendar: I’ve discovered that the ‘what to do and when’ of gardening is something of a notional nonsense! In many respects, all gardening is made up of two elements: how to do something, and when to do it. We read articles on how to take hardwood cuttings and when is the best time to do so, or how to plant spring bulbs, and when to do so… and so on. The mythology of how and when, passed down from one generation to the next.


Well, obviously this is all good advice, and I’m not about to criticize its clear well-intentioned common sense, even though planting bulbs roughly six months before you want them to flower is kind of obvious really, as is choosing the ‘ripe’ time to take the ‘right’ cuttings. However, as with the huge degree of adaptability inherent within the ‘right plant, right place’ mantra, the law of how and when to do certain seasonal tasks also allows for a wide range of flexibility.


Dead seed heads still doing their stuff amongst grasses

That’s why, at times I must confess, I find myself getting a little tired and bored when teaching horticulture to new students.  I hear myself repeating the same information I was once told… 'all that stuff' in the books that tell you how and when you should be doing 'all that ‘stuff' in your own garden…. and so it goes on.... and on...!

I'm aware that i'm telling them of Magnolias, Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Camellias that love an acid soil, even though I’ve seen countless specimens absolutely thriving in some very average, Ph neutral soils. I tell them the importance of annually mulching their borders with a good organic compost, even though now I read that this task isn’t really necessary (except for rose-hungry borders) and how a perennial border actually prefers less fertility than previously thought. I listen to Gardeners’ Question Time on Radio 4 and hear five different responses from five different panellists.



Here, i’m reminded of the wit and wisdom of the great Christopher Lloyd (the God of Great Dixter) when he wrote on the subject of when to do a certain horticultural task. Having just given us pages and pages of advice as to when is the best time to prune and plant, in good humour he tells us that he is also a ‘great believer in doing a job when I want to it, and to hell with the consequences’. He informs us that the best time to do any job in the garden is when the task itself is staring you in the face, when and if you have the time to do it, and (most important) if you happen to have the correct tool in your hand at the time. If all those stars are in alignment, then now is as a good a time as any to be getting on with it!

I think what it is, is that now I’ve been gardening for so long, and I have worked so closely to the ground, and with the many plants contained within it, I have come to witness first hand, that nature (climate, conditions and tolerances) allow for such a wide interpretation of what, how and when something can be done, you can ‘almost’ throw The Book out of the window, and just do it when it seems right to do so!




I mean, don’t be silly about it: don’t go planting anything into hard and frosted ground, or in bone-dry, high-summer borders! Do pay at least some attention to the laws of right plant, right place, but do remain mindful of the fact that, like us, even when denied favourable conditions, plants still want to live, flower and produce offspring: plants are very adaptable!


Lovely combinations at Lady Farm

Without wishing to sound like some kind of other-worldly Zen gardener, I guess what I’m saying is that providing your intention is a good one, and you pay some attention to the needs of the plant, cosset them slightly and make them as comfortable as possible in their new homes, you won’t go too far wrong. All the best gardens are created from love and nurture, coupled with a desire to create something beautiful. Just remember that young Grasshopper… wax on, wax off…!

Marc
le Jardinier x

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