A Gardener; to be or not to be?

Hello and welcome to my Gardening Ways blog, where this time I shine a light on being a gardener, a life in horticulture if you will. I’ve not written for a while, so without wanting to shower you with excuses, I’ll simply say that I’m here now, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of putting this post together, and that for someone, I hope it proves useful.

You might be familiar with the situation where you find a subject intriguing, so you read up to learn a little more about it, maybe through some magazines or via websites. Then, after your interest is piqued, you move to immerse yourself in the topic in order to fill up your knowledge bank. But somewhere along the way, when you’re feeling like you pretty much have it in the bag, you realise there’s an awful lot more to know. You might then feel as though regardless of how much you now try to absorb, you just can’t learn enough, there might even be bouts of imposter syndrome.

Horticulture, for me, has been like this. For anyone though, it might be an instantaneous fascination of a single plant or flower, or maybe a new responsibility of caring for a garden space. Whatever it is, if you are drawn into the world of plants, gardens and horticulture, be prepared for a subject that will both embrace you and unfold before you. Furthermore, should your interest nudge you to consider horticulture as a career, be aware that it’s as deep and broad a subject as any other, and if you stay the course it can offer a lifetime of learning, discovery and fulfilment.

I will say however, that those who do choose horticulture as a career path will not necessarily have an easy journey. Metaphorically speaking, there will be locked garden gates along the way, many doubters of your ability and worth, and sphinxes will sit besides the path posing challenging riddles for you to solve. Some of those gates will swing open and riddles will be solved, but as with all journeys there will be new distractions and opportunities as we progress. In short, I’m saying be prepared for a bumpy wheelbarrow ride!

A bright yellow Rudbeckia flower by Gary Webb ©

As with many other trades I’m sure, a working life in horticulture means that you will meet and learn from many inspiring individuals, and I think this is of prime importance for anyone’s journey. Key characters from my past, even from years ago stay fresh in my mind. I can sit here now and be transported to points where one fascinating person or another stood in a garden, waxing lyrical about the place and its qualities, or about a plant and its history, medicinal use or some other revealing aspect.

In my mind I can step back in time and stand before wise figures from the horticultural world, some indeed who have long since departed. They inspired me back then, and I was fully aware of it. Interestingly though, those people inspire me now, each person’s wisdom, calmness, excitable or focused character still today, feeding my spirit. Even those who miss named plants, or followed horticultural practices I might have considered out-of-date; still taught me lessons.

As you journey, many characters specifically sent for you will offer similar lessons. Whether it’s Monty Don delivering his Friday night tips for seed sowing, a teacher unraveling botanical science, or a guiding figure who sowed sunflower seeds with you as a child; almost every one of them will have a part to play in helping you reach your green ideals.

However we journey and whoever we encounter, our experiences will stick with us. Horticulture and gardening can embrace us, push us, carry and care for us too; plants putting food in our bellies, ointment on our skin, clothes on our backs and shelter over our heads. I won’t even get started on the wellbeing aspect of horticulture!

Personally, I approached this post having trodden, crunched, stomped, laboured and slipped my way along a good few garden, woodland and parkland paths. I feel I’ve served my time on finger-numbing brush-cutters, chipped teeth on wayward tree limbs, fallen out of shrubs, scrubbed too many spark plugs, and latterly have stared into the depths of far too many spreadsheets. However, I’ve also witnessed the most heart lifting sun rises and sets, and have held my breath when wildlife came close. I’ve worked in some of the most awe inspiring spaces, and I don’t know where to start when considering the plants (friends) I’ve met and brought into the world.

There is however much more for me yet, as when I cast my mind back to all the incredible places I’ve been and the wisdom filled people I’ve encountered, I still have a desire to experience more. I wouldn’t change most of what’s happened, but I do want to influence what is ahead; because there are so many wonderful plants, gardens, landscapes and people out there. I can only hope I have enough time left!

Naturally, it’s not all about taking risks as it might read above, but it is about considering, carefully, your route. Think about where or what you want to be doing further down the line, and if it’s hard to picture that, get yourself out to places for consideration. Sit on a garden bench and ask yourself if the place has, or could, hold enough diversity to keep your interest. Invite yourself or volunteer at a nursery to see if production horticulture could be your thing, or even try a short distance course to learn the ropes.

If you’re starting out or considering a career in horticulture, then I hope to have said a few words here that will be of use. I’d like to finish by saying the following about my own world of horticulture, give you my view of gardening if you’ll allow:

Do not in the least be put off by that breadth or depth I mention above, but be inspired by the diversity of options and the many layers. Explore as many paths as you can, as early as you can, be inquisitive and ask lots of questions. Consider specialising in particular plants or techniques yes, or being a generalist; and having complete confidence in that. But please don’t ever expect to know it all; just be prepared to learn a good deal, over a good deal of time, and keep an open, broad, mind.

Remember that it’s brilliant and inspirational to be someone who holds encyclopaedic knowledge, but it’s also ok not to know a plant name, not to know when to prune a particular shrub, or not to have visited that world famous garden.

Horticulture is so vast a subject and full of opportunity that it is enough to simply keep plodding and to hold a steady job, as it is to keep venturing; just remember that both routes can be enjoyed all the more if you retain an appetite for learning and discovery, and you stay prepared for change and adaptation.

To be, or not to be a gardener, the choice is yours!

Many thanks for reading to the end, if it’s triggered any questions, I’d be very happy to answer in the comments section, or you can message me on Twitter or Instagram.

Kind regards, Gary, Gardening Ways

Garden Journal 8.4.22

Hello and welcome to my garden journal. It’s been a while, but I hope you’ll stick around for what I hope will be an interesting trot through my recent gardening ways.

You may remember that at the end of January, I was heading into a gardens and parks consultancy role for the National Trust, in the super-large Midlands and East region. This in effect means that for the first time in years, more years than I care to remember, I won’t have a ‘work’ garden to directly manage; which I’m still struggling to get to grips with to be fair.

Swirling patterns in stone balustrade at Upton House Warwickshire by Gary Webb
Stunning stonework at Upton House & Garden

In fact, the first question numerous people have asked during introductions has often been “How are you going to adapt to a ‘hands-off’ role?” Well, in all honesty it will have to remain a ‘suck it and see’ exercise, because if we don’t try new things or dip our toes in the water, if we don’t walk through the door when it opens; then how do we know if we’re in the right place? Only time will tell.

There is though a couple of tricks up my sleeve, which I hope will satisfy my thirst for physical, active gardening. The first, having taken over a new garden at home at the end of last summer, is brand new garden project that is pretty much a blank canvas.

Just taking a breather whilst enjoying some digging…

It is a bland, largely grass and clay-based plot I have to say, and with economics the way they are, it’s certainly not going to become an overnight show garden. But what an opportunity this little garden presents; such an opportunity that I’ve hardly dare touch it for months whilst I’ve pondered the options. I’ve studied the light and shade, and frost-pockets since day one, so at this point I’ve worked out where’s best for a seating area or two. I know where my potted and long suffering sun loving plants need to go, along with those that will be happier in the shade.

The most challenging aspect, which isn’t entirely unexpected in a new development I guess, is the soil. Well, when I say soil, I mean subsoil. From the moment I dug out the base for the shed, to the moment I planted a new sapling in the front garden, my concerns over the quality of the soil were confirmed.

Digging this lot into new borders will make all the difference, I hope… Let’s also hope it’s not also full of nasties…

However, if I’m to maintain my presence as a gardener, my lot is to work with what I have, and so this week arrived a bulk bag of well-rotted manure, of which 1/3rd is already part dug into a new border I’m working on. There’s a long way to go before I can crouch down and plant, but I’ve made a start, by investing in what matters most; the soil. Just watch the weeds grow now!

The other trick up my sleeve, so to speak, is of course our family allotment, which has given my veggie growing ambitions a new lease of life already. We took on the new allotment at the very same time as the new home garden last year, and we’ve all thoroughly enjoyed visiting on fair-weather days.

Sun set lighting up allotment sheds in Warwickshire. By Gary Webb
Sun setting on a productive session on the plot.

Our boys have been there with us most times, and have both dug holes. Well, to clarify, they’ve dug one hole each. Every time they visit, they dig a little more out of ‘their’ hole, and it quickly reached the point where they had to cover over said holes to make them safe whilst we were away. But they’re digging, my boys are actually enjoying digging! We just need to figure out what they can do next with each hole, so any suggestions would be happily received!

There’s a good deal to do yet before it becomes the productive oasis I’m envisioning, and I’m absolutely certain we’ll have lots of fails and disasters. But, and this has been a huge surprise to me and my better half, if we go on to have as many satisfying fresh air filled moments as we have thus far enjoyed; we’re in for an absolute treat.

Carrots & parsnips going in! 🤞🏼🥕🥕🥕

Don’t forget, when you’re a horticulturist and get yourself an allotment, it’s hard not to feel a touch of pressure. What I will say though is we, the royal ‘we’ that is, have already grown in confidence. Our first seeds were sown direct last weekend, and there’s a range of seedlings growing in the warmth of a growing frame at home; where I can keep a close eye on them. Can’t you tell I’m having a ball? Maybe I’ll be able to survive the day job after all!

Speaking of the day job, the adjustment has been quite a big deal I have to say, but without doubt, the best elements so far have been the opportunities I’ve had to meet fellow gardeners and tour their gardens. It’s already given me different perspectives and I’ve much more insight now to their working worlds. The organisation has grown hugely since I departed in 2008, and its work, its people, and their ambition is incredible.

The orangery (or maybe camellia 🤔) house at Belton House.

If there is a down side, it’s the good deal of time spent worshiping a laptop, which for someone more suited to praying to a potting bench, or anointing a freshly sharpened pair of pruners; takes some adjustment. It’s also made blogging pretty awkward, as the last thing you want is more screen time blogging after a day on a PC! But, and it’s a big but; I’ve had some brilliant hours away from the screen, and I’ve spent quality time with some very talented gardeners in some stunning gardens. Plus, I’ve hugged some INCREDIBLE trees! 🌳

OK, enough is enough, I know you need to get on and do things, or check Instagram or TikTok, so I’ll thank you now for your valuable time; I’m very grateful you stopped by. I’ll nip away if I may to continue establishing in my new role, to fork-out more couch grass at the allotment, and to smash my spade through solid clumps of drying clay in my home garden.

If you’d like to have a look at progress on our allotment, you can find us over on Instagram: @allotofpotential

Kind regards, Gary – Gardening Ways

Becoming a Gardener

Becoming a Gardener.

~

Birds will call you to the garden each waking moment,

Then, you will find yourself working amongst them whilst appreciating

Their melodies, their objections, and their interest in your gardening.

~

Gardening will cease to be a chore when each action has deeper meaning,

When each action contributes not only to your garden

But to your neighbourhood, your planet, and to your wellbeing.

~

Each plant will share its special qualities with you at any given moment,

A moment when you could be anywhere else, but you will be there,

And rapidly any worry or toil that plant ever caused will be gone.

~

Be they lovely, harmed, harmful or full of delight and promise,

Every leaf, stem, flower and insect may present a new discovery for you,

And every voyage will become a journey of learning and fascination.

~

Time spent feeding the soil, sowing seeds, planting or looking,   

Lifting a pendulous flower or tickling your palm across soft spring growth

Will be an earthing occasion, connecting you with the world around you;

It will restore you and will never be time wasted.

~

Sometimes achievements will be crushed and losses will feel harsh yet,

The challenges are always worth rising to, and in the process a balance

Will be found that will nourish your heart, mind and soul.

Your back may need a little extra care though I have to say.

~

To know now that a plant or garden grew from your effort,

To know that ecology or the community may have unknowingly benefitted

From your guiding hand and watchful eye,

Is to know that you became a gardener, you contributed,

And you created life through your gardening.

~

Become a gardener and make a difference.

Gary Webb, June 2019

I’d love to hear why you became a gardener, what you get out of gardening, or what prevents you from seeing yourself as a gardener.

Regards,

Gary