I read a good article by James Wong in the Grauniad this weekend in which he gave his four top tips for beginners in the garden. I never feel like I have a great well of knowledge about gardening, although I have friends who see me as the expert in gardening, in relative terms that is, because I actually plant stuff, grow stuff and harvest or cut other stuff at the end of the process. Although I still regard myself as a beginner in this big green-fingered world, reading James Wong’s article made me think that perhaps, in the horticultural educational ladder, I would most probably be in a position to now graduate from beginners’ to improvers classes.
James Wong says persistence is key – to not be put off by things dying on you. Well, I think I do that. There have been times when growing veg this summer has felt like a Sisyphean task – as successive batches of chard and peas have perished on the raised bed killing fields like ranks of yeomanry heading over the top to be mown down by slugs, sparrows or simple drought. But I have rolled that metaphorical rock back up the hill and actually made it stick on occasion to reap the benefits in plentiful courgettes and beans, amongst other things.
Second piece of advice is to avoid worrying about weeds, which are simply flowers int the wrong place. Using new raised beds has been a real treat this summer, especially with the dry weather so there has been little or no weeding to be done, but I have taken James’s idea to one extreme by allowing some of the random seedlings that emerged from the mudslide of the great greenhouse disaster to flourish in the warm indoor beds. So I now have a sprinkling of zinnias and Ammi poking through the sweet peppers and tomatoes. Why not?
Tip number three is simply to plant stuff in the ground and not bother with pots too much. This is something I could take heed of as I am the worst helicopter parent when it comes to germinating and growing seeds. I put them in lovingly sieved compost in individual seed trays and then check on them everyday – perhaps every hour – until they are poking through. Then fuss over them even more watering and watching until they are bursting out of the trays and need to be potted on or planted out. Then – to my amazement – when let loose from their molly coddled world of shop-bought compost and careful watering, planted out in the naked earth, they flourish. Like grumpy teenagers living away from home for the first time they suddenly take flight, get on with growing up properly and become sensible members of the community. So why not sow more seeds direct into the earth? It might be what they really want. Perhaps I’ll try that…
And finally Mr Wong advises using Latin names for everything. Just get out and learn them he says: no one really knows how Latin – a dead language – should be pronounced so no worries there. And by using the correct Latin name you can be sure of what you are buying rather than vaguely describing the blue one of this or that flower, you can be pedantically specific. But as someone whose school coerced him into taking Latin O-Level (My fault: I was one of only a few who actually revised for the exam in the second form) and subsequently scraped a C grade at sixteen (a “4” in today’s exciting GCSE grading), I have never been keen on the language even in horticultural use. Until recently I would have assumed that streptocarpus was a fish flavoured throat lozenge. But I will perhaps try the Latin way more often. Does that include more gesticulation when I speak, suffering wild swings of emotion and using the horn on my car with impunity? If it makes the broad beans grow, I’ll give it a shot.
I may not have been happy with being made to do latin as a schoolboy, but if things don’t go as planned, it is better to laugh than to cry. As a latin student might have said of my designated superiors at the last educational establishment I left:
“Eos si iocus non possint pedicabo…”
*With apologies to Elvis Costello