Explore the glory of gardening, and how it can help sow the seeds of wellness
It was May 2022. My first batch of parsnip seeds failed to germinate because it was too cold. Slugs had eaten the first leaves of the runner beans that I had planted two weeks before. The courgettes had suffered the same fate. My plans for the year were wrecked by a seemingly unsympathetic nature. Welcome to the world of gardening for absolute beginners! It’s good for you, honestly.
I was 35 when I got a garden. I possessed only a rudimentary knowledge of plants, seasons (plant in spring, harvest in autumn), and crop rotation, but was keen to learn more and to experiment, knowing that failure would occur. And indeed it did. Repeatedly.
Some of my thoughts were surreal. In my mind I could bargain with the ‘King of Slugs’, and provide him with a humble offering of a broccoli plant that would satiate his kind, allowing me to harvest the rest of my produce in relative peace. He betrayed my trust in what turned out to be a Faustian bargain, and he also allied himself with the cabbage butterflies to further wreak havoc on my small, defenceless, vegetable kingdom.
However, each disaster brought me back to the drawing board. Some issues such as yellowing (under- or over-watering, or a lack of nutrients) or infestation can be identified. But in a similar manner to much that will happen to you in life, sometimes there is no clear explanation for misfortune. Depending on your outlook, it is either cosmic chance, a Gaian malaise, a Darwinian struggle on the micro-scale, divine intervention, or just plain bad luck. And you have to resiliently accept this, and either adapt quickly, or try again next year while being as stoic as you can.
But remember, you are not alone in this struggle, and of course, each disaster will lead to a profusion of opinions about what you did wrong, and what to do again, and may lead to some conversation on non-Covid/cost of living/environment/Ukraine issues.
I have pleasantly chatted about the difference between ‘second earlies’ and ‘main crop’ potatoes. I have been provided with divergent ways to ripen green tomatoes. “Put them in a brown paper bag and leave them on a radiator,” one person said. “Move your tomato plants into the living room,” said another.
Colleagues who never discussed gardening before, and who I thought had no interest in the subject, have told me that broken egg shells or a spray bottle filled with cayenne pepper can deter slugs. Ever discussed parsnips with a man who owns beehives? I have. If someone asks what you did at the weekend, tell them you planted something. I would wager that they will take an interest.
The day I was asked by a friend when her dad should plant his potatoes, my heart could have burst with pride. “Are they first earlies, second earlies, or main crop?” I sagely enquired. There are also numerous Men’s Sheds (menssheds.org.uk) and local allotment groups on the internet that would be willing to help you.
Of course, trying to grow plants in itself is a valuable ecological lesson. You can see that, without direct intervention, many of our food crops are so vulnerable and require the near c