About being “not a proper” gardener

Gardens have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents gardened, we visited gardens, our friends had gardens. In 2001 J and I bought a house and with it acquired a garden – small, mostly paved, and in need of some serious attention – and without even thinking about it, we became gardeners. But let me make something clear – I am Not A Proper Gardener.

Being a Proper Gardener means some fairly specific things to me. Proper Gardeners have been trained, and work on big estates or somewhere like Kew Gardens or an RHS garden. Or they grow their own food. Or both. Some of them appear on television explaining to the rest of us how we too can aspire to be Proper Gardeners. When I think of Proper Gardeners I think of watching Gardener’s World, of that helpful book by Alan Titchmarsh which Mum bought us just after we started gardening, or I think of my parents.

When I was 4 we moved to a house with an enormous garden – long and narrow, with definite areas for definite purposes. Near the house was a large lawned area, wth a fishpond, rockery, path running up one side, borders with shrubs and flowers, and a wooden arch over which a rose rambled. Further up was a shed, and a timber building we rather grandly referred to as the ‘chalet’, and a laburnum tree overhanging a rose bed in which very little else would grow. Then the greenhouse, and more lawn, left clear for my brother and I to play cricket and badminton. Beyond that it was all fruit and veg, carefully tended, rows of carrots, cabbage, potatoes; fruit bushes under netting to protect the fruit from birds, laden with redcurrants, gooseberries and blackcurrants, and the almost legendary Worcesterberry with its thorns an inch long.

We always remember childhood as endless summer. I remember the fruit being picked to be made into jam, the veg being blanched and frozen. Selling tomatoes when we had so many we couldn’t eat them all. Mum making green tomato chutney when they didn’t ripen.

My parents were proper gardeners – they fed us on what grew in our garden. As we grew up and moved away our badminton lawn became an orchard of apple, pear, plum and cherry trees, they grew fewer veg but still gardened, my dad determined to have unusual ‘talking point’ plants and trees. He grew a medlar tree, carefully harvested the fruits every year and made medlar cheese which only he and I would eat.

The garden they created was a wonder to see. Over a thirty-year period it evolved into a beautiful mature garden, never dull, always filled with colour and life. Sadly, the people who bought the house after my parents moved felt that it would all be too much work, and ripped everything out, turning it all over to lawn.

It’s tough to become a gardener when you have that image in your head. It’s a lot to live up to, even without other considerations. I have yet to have a garden where I feel confident growing veg, other than in containers, as the soil everywhere seems to have had too much attention from neighbourhood cats. And for years we have rented houses, so our garden plans these days are for short term effect as much as anything.

So I don’t garden for food, and I’m not in any way trained or ever particularly talented. I garden for the simple reason that I want to have something nice to look at, and somewhere nice to sit and drink a cup of tea or a G&T as the mood takes me. I like planting things and watching them grow. I have very little patience with lists of what will or won’t grow in certain soils and conditions, however, as I always seem to be gardening on clay and can therefore be fairly sure that if it grew in the last garden it will grow in this one.

So I am Not A Proper Gardener, but I am an enthusiastic one. And just now, we are about halfway through a process of creating a neat, attractive urban garden at the back of our latest rented house, so this blog can if nothing else be a record of that achievement.

And I promise to put some pretty pictures in as well.

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