Read an Excerpt
The theory and practice of gardening must be learned. Severed as most of us are from ancient oral tradition, and usually oblivious to the practical and aesthetic dimensions of the garden in childhood, gardening has to be consciously learned rather than unconsciously absorbed. This should not distress us unduly, for most keen gardeners would maintain that hopeful travelling is quite as good as arriving. It is in an attempt to satisfy the desire for essential practical knowledge on the part of all hopeful, would-be gardeners, without filling their breasts either with alarm or despondency, that I have written this book.
My purpose is to explain why and how certain jobs are done, but to reduce the litany of garden tasks to a manageable selection that will be helpful to people who wish to do their very best for their gardens but who, because of the ties of work or children, cannot commit themselves to daily care. These are the people for whom all those lovely little perfectionist jobs, like rigging up protective newspaper shelters around seedlings to shield them from the sun's rays, are just not possible. This book is for the potentially passionate gardener, always short of time yet keen to pursue her interest with energy and dedication, who wishes to know how to grow plants well. (And when I say "her," I do, of course, mean "his" as well.) For such people, this book will act as an informative and, I hope, readable introduction.
But it is also for those who like the idea of gardening, but may not yet have done a great deal, like the person who is well-disposed towards the Church, but whose activities have so far been restricted to buying raffle tickets for the churchbazaar. This book is intended to coax these people out of their agnosticism and give them faith. Most important, it is intended to encourage people to have confidence in themselves, for the most powerful brake on enthusiasm is the feeling that you cannot do it and that you are left out of the magic circle of cognoscenti, whose overheard conversation is all but incomprehensible to you.
This book is a highly personal account, and it would be astonishing if my experiences always accorded with those of other gardeners. It is, after all, perfectly possible for diametrically opposite but still valid points of view to be held (usually vehemently) on almost every gardening subject. Nor is this, nor is it intended to be, a comprehensive reference book.
Paradoxically, I do not wish to compromise with excellence. I am not interested in gardening as housework out-of-doors, an activity designed merely to keep the garden acceptably tidy. The garden is not for me a place primarily to lounge, sunbathe, play or cook gristly bits of meat on sticks. Gardening is not for me a "leisure" pursuit like lawn badminton, but a solace, a respite from an often alarming world, and an activity with profound and (usually) satisfying consequences. Gardening, especially the growing of plants, is my passion, so this book is written for other gardeners, and for potential converts, not for non-gardeners who happen to own gardens. If you wish for a way of avoiding work or involvement, this book is not for you.
To succeed as a gardener does not depend solely on reading sufficient information on the subject. You must also establish honestly your own capabilities, limitations and, most important, tolerances. It is no good pretending that the inevitably untidy "romantic" garden is for you if you become apoplectic when your children leave their toys lying about in the house, and suicidal if anyone puts odd scraps of paper on your beautifully clear desk. If you are tidy-minded, you will want a tidy garden, and that means spending much time cutting the edges, trimming back the shrubs, and hoeing, hoeing, hoeing. If, on the other hand, you are naturally scruffy, however much you may be anxious to impress on your neighbors how orderly you are, the state of your tool shed (if you are foolish enough to let them inside) is bound to give the game away. Do not fight your instincts too hard for, unfortunately, gardens, like houses, become the physical manifestations of personality, so that you will be unable for long to disguise your inclinations.
Be honest about what you want out of the garden, and about how much time you have. This is a great deal easier said than done, for although you may fool yourself that you have one full day a week to devote to it, in reality that precious "hard space" will probably either be nibbled into by the exigent demands of family or work, or changed by the weather. It is wiser to work out a schedule and halve it; you will be better pleased with yourself for achieving the modest score you aimed at, than if, in your ambition, you miss the target altogether.
Don't forget to include the "nostalgia factor." This is very important for all those (about half the population, including myself) who wish to return to the good old days when the potatoes tasted better, the garden was full of the double sweet rocket, Father only used one spray, mixed up in a bucket, for the roses, and the sun seemed always to be shining. . . . If you are one of these, take into account that this will mean using only a weedkiller like sodium chlorate, which will creep sideways from the path into the flower beds and kill your plants, trimming your hedges with shears, and mowing your lawn with a hand mower. You may, on second thoughts, find the information contained in this book about newer equipment and more modern means of weed and pest control useful, even if you condescend to follow the advice only under protest.
Try also to be relaxed about your achievements, or lack of them. Gardening may sometimes appear to be a nightmare running race in which everyone else disappears out of sight, leaving you rooted to the spot with legs too heavy to move, but it is not in fact a competition. More than anything, gardening is to be enjoyed, not viewed as a self-inflicted but necessary hardship to be endured for one's ultimate benefit, like going on a diet or plucking one's eyebrows.
Finally, on no account be intimidated by experts. Your experience is just as valid as theirs, and you will get to know your garden and its vagaries better than anyone else. Experts can be very withering and god-like in their judgements, but don't let them get away with it. If their experience does not accord with yours, back your judgement against theirs. And that goes for anything I say, too.