I’m about to debunk the greatest myth of all, and it happens to be about gardening. The Green Thumb – the ability to create lush, gorgeous landscapes thanks to a mystical power. Great gardeners have it (often apparently inherited in the form of a mutant gene), but most of us don’t. Apparently that’s why our lawns are patchy, our roses covered in aphids and the garden beds are always weedy. It’s a fact. Well actually, it’s not. The reason any garden is not as successful as it could be is a lot less mysterious. It’s just that many people don’t know how to garden.
I’ve a friend who once kindly pointed out that it takes skill to cook well, and by skill, she meant knowing what to do and when. She’s right, and gardening is the same. Know what to do and get your timing right and your thumbs will glow like little leprechauns. So here is my simple as list of what to do and when…
1. Don’t be a butterfly, in other words, try not to flutter all over the garden. Instead, make a plan and stick to it. Decide to mow the lawn, and do it in one hit. Choose to weed one particular bed, and nail it. If you don’t let yourself be distracted, sticking to your plan means the whole garden will start to show what’s possible under a systematic approach. I promise you, it will thrive.
2. Keep your tools close by. Obvious I know, but why then do we find ourselves wearing a path back and forth from the garden shed all day? If you’ve planned what you’re going to do (see point one), you know what tools you’ll need. Gather them together and keep them with you as you work. An old laundry basket is a great way to keep the smaller bits and pieces – secateurs, trowels, gloves, garden twine – together.
3. Work with Nature. Surely we remember enough from high school biology to understand how plants work? Seeds germinate if given sunlight and moisture. Plants need the same. If we keep this in mind when we weed, we’ll appreciate why mulching thickly and immediately is essential. If we don’t, every weed seed in the soil will leap up within a week to undo all our good work. So smother those weeds with mulch and let your beautiful plants thrive instead, thanks to the way the mulch keeps the soil healthy and moist.
4. Deal with the green stuff. We gardeners are part of a cycle. Our plants grow, then we dead-head, trim and weed around them. Which means that at the end of each gardening session there’s a pile of green debris to deal with. But we’re often tired by then, so sometimes those piles of green rubbish get left all over the garden, spoiling the sense of a day well spent. I’ve sorted this with my monster bag and bucket system. I use the bucket to throw snippets and weeds into whenever I’m working in a tight spot. I then throw them into the monster bag along with anything bigger, dragging the bag along as I work. At the end of the day I’ve a large but neat bag of green to deal with, and a tidy garden to look back at.
4. Get smart and get tweaking. And by this I mean, let your time working efficiently in the garden give you ideas of how the garden itself could be better set out. At the risk of sounding smug, our two acres of trial gardens here at work are kept completely sorted by one person over two week days. And that’s because we’ve been thoughtful. The paths between the flower beds are the right size for the mower. The trees have been carefully lopped to allow the mower underneath. Irrigation systems deliver the necessary water and the systematic weeding is followed closely by mulch applied two to three inches thick. Working in your own garden will quickly show you where tweaks can free you from gardening drudgery: possibly a new paved path between the lawn and flower beds to keep them grass-weed-free; the trees growing in garden beds could be lopped to let you stand when working beneath them; your garden beds could be prioritised so that most of your energy goes to the garden beds closest to the house while those further away are filled with mass plantings (lots of the same plant) making those beds super-low-maintenance.
5. Listen to other gardeners. Not everyone will have gems to offer you, but every now and then you’ll hear something that makes a lot of sense. My tip for what it’s worth is, don’t be afraid to trim, cut or pull. Oh and happy gardening.