Why do we garden? What is the real value of it? And what are the secrets to the best gardens? These ideas come from a recent talk by Monty Don, host of BBC Gardener’s World.
For more, also see this rare video tour of Tasha Tudor in her garden.
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Monty Don on Gardening
Monty Don is the current host of the BBC show Gardener’s World, which is the most popular gardening show in the UK. There is really nothing to compare it to here in North America. I have been watching it for many years.
This talk (video, above) took place recently in Sweden at a gardening event. In the video, Monty tells the story of how he became a gardener and presenter (or ‘host’ as we say here). He also shares some garden wisdom—insights—observations. I’m not sure what the best word is for them. Perhaps just truths will do.
What I loved about the talk is, we have the same opinions about gardening. For all the beauty, food growing, and show-offy-ness of it all, the thing that matters most in gardening (beyond good stewardship) is what it does to us as humans. If you garden, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re new to it, there is something wonderful awaiting you.
Garden Insights with Monty Don
The quotes are by Monty. The commentary is me expanding out what he said.
“I’m just as happy growing cabbages as the rarest plant in the world.”
Why do we garden? What is it about gardening that hooks people in and keeps them at it for life?
On the surface, gardening is about making something beautiful or useful with nature, but there is much more to it. And, it’s the ‘more to it’ that I loathe to put into words because it always sounds so sappy and trite when it’s really quite pure and lovely.
There is nothing quite like gardening. We work with nature to create something unique. In the process of planting seeds, caring for plants, adapting to seasons and weather, and the physical work, we find something greater within us. Gardening calms. Encourages. Uplifts. Invigorates. Oh dear, we’re getting sappy already.
And, ironically, the more muddied and exhausted we might be after a long day working outside, the better off we are. Granted, a warm shower, a good bar of soap, and dinner on the table makes that day perfect, but the real transformation comes from the inner work has all taken place while toiling and daydreaming amongst the plants and wild things.
“The more I garden the less I know, but the more pleasure I get from it.”
Many of us take on gardening thinking we can learn it and master it: gain control and go. But no.
“A garden is like a river. It flows, it’s always moving, and it’s never the same. It never reaches anywhere other than this moment.”
As time goes on, we come to understand you must work with nature, not against it.
If we’re lucky, we get this understanding early on, and spend the rest of our years adapting to whatever nature offers instead of trying to persuade it or battle against it.
If it works, it works.
This is perhaps the most important advice for the new gardener. Don’t get lost in the rules, the norms, or what your neighbour is doing. There are always different ways of doing the same thing.
If you have success with what you’re doing, keep doing it and don’t worry what anyone says.
This comes up all the time when I’m writing garden tutorials. In this article about overwintering and propagating zonal geraniums (Pelargoniums), five gardeners demonstrate how they successfully keep the plants in storage during the winter, for new flowers in spring. Each method is different. All of them work. There is not one best way. Nature is the best example of this: every seed that germinates has landed in a different spot with a different story.
“Find what you love and do that.”
Make your garden personal. Don’t try to copy other gardens. Instead, find what you love and do that.
Focus on creating a space that is like nowhere else. In this cookie-cutter world, we each need a place to express ourselves.
Wildlife needs unruliness to thrive. Long grass, seed pods, places to nest, hide, mate, and rest.
Go for the overall health of the garden, not micromanaging little things.
When in doubt, do nothing.
Doing nothing can be really effective. By and large, problems solve themselves.
In the talk, Monty gives the example of a gardener asking how to grow apples don’t have brown blotches on them.
But does the apple tree bloom? Yes. Does the tree grow apples? Yes. Are they delicious? Yes? Then just carry on. Focus on healthy soil and the overall diversity of the garden and these problems solve themselves. Or, is it even a problem?
Soil is the most important thing.
Feed your soil by composting ‘everything that has lived’.
Judge your soil quality by how it feels. Is it warm? Does it feel good to touch?
Grow nothing that does not want to be there.
Choose your plants and plan, but don’t fight what works. Nature will tell you.
Slow growth is best. Fast-growing plants can be invasive, short-lived, or, prone to weakness and disease.
Prevention is always better than cure.
Raise seeds and propagate cuttings. This will give you plants that you know like your garden. And it’s inexpensive.
If you don’t have failure, you don’t know why things are succeeding.
And there you go. Gardening begins with soil and plants. Where it takes you, requires a lifetime to discover.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛