The gardening bug

by Kate Bradbury

What makes us take up gardening? Are there really such things as green fingers? Are we born with the desire to tend our plots or does the passion for gardening come with age, or by accident?

SunflowerWhat makes us take up gardening? Are there really such things as green fingers? Are we born with the desire to tend our plots or does the passion for gardening come with age, or by accident? So much depends on whether the opportunity is there to give it a go in the first place.

I was always going to "work with the soil", according to my mum. Unlike my sister, I spent my early days mucking around in the garden, making mud pies (to throw at my sister), playing with worms and ants and helping my dad puddle in leeks on the veg plot. I loved it, and am still enchanted by the smell of bonfires on summer evenings and swollen, ripe gooseberries, just as I was when I was roughly the same height as the plants.

I also had a strong affinity with the garden wildlife, or at least I liked to think so. I remember my dad waiting for the blue tits to leave the nest box so he could quickly lift me up and show me the baby birds inside. Once, aged two, I found a worm that had been pecked at by a bird, so I rushed indoors to fetch cotton wool and warm water to dress its wound, and then put a plaster on it. (The poor worm, I don't know why my mum didn't stop me.)

By the time I was eleven, I had a veg plot of my own. Then, after a brief teenage interlude, I discovered cacti at university. It wasn't long before I had a flat full of plants and an allotment of my own to play with.

I couldn't live without gardening - it makes me feel whole. If I'm tired, stressed, unhappy, I garden to feel better. I get up early to squeeze gardening in before work, and I'll go hungry when I get home in the evening to spend the last hours of sunlight with the plants, frogs and bees.

But that's enough of me. I asked around the office and, not surprisingly, the answers were all similar. Ross's interest began when his mum bought a bromeliad and gave him the task of watering it; Elaine discovered gardening by being wheeled around in her granddad's wheelbarrow and Cat buried a mouldy tomato in a pot of soil and ended up (miraculously) harvesting her first home-grown fruits a few months later.

The one thing we had in common was early access to a garden. Would we be sat in this office without that privilege? Gardening doesn't just help heal temporary blips, it changes lives. That's why community gardens and allotment initiatives run by organisations like Groundwork and the BTCV, are so important. They help people learn new skills, improve their local area and give them access to green space. To me, life without green space isn't worth thinking about.

I'd love to hear how you got into gardening. Was the desire there from childhood or did you develop an interest as an adult?

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Talkback: The gardening bug
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Gardeners' World Web User 24/06/2011 at 16:42

I'm sorry - I just couldn't resist this: "Anne Wareham hates gardening. She hates planting bulbs (‘I wasn’t made with a hinge in my back’). She hates cutting things down, cutting them back and pulling them out. She hates weeding. She hates the boring repetition of sowing seeds, mowing, cutting hedges, potting up and propagating. ‘Gardening is boring,’ she says. ‘If there are enjoyable jobs, they’re mostly enjoyable for the result, not the process. There is no actual intellectual content to the task itself, even if there may be in the planning and designing." Read more: XXXXXXX

Gardeners' World Web User 24/06/2011 at 17:00

Living in a room in a tenement building meant no access to growing things till I went to school and the infant teacher had us all growing cress in a saucer on the windowsill. Persistence in my desire to grow things resulted in my twelve year old uncle agreeing to me sowing marigolds and nasturtiums in my widowed grandmother's tiny garden "as long as she keeps them in a straight line" as that what he did with his vegetables. But when I was eleven and war broke out my father acquired a railway allotment and we dug for victory. Flowers were not allowed and even strawberries were frowned upon but I learned the craft from my father and the more you know of any subject the more you love it. We were able to rent a council flat when I was 15 and the back garden, though small was part of the walled garden of the demolished mansion house the estate was built on, and the gooseberry bushes were still there. That soil was very fertile and I knew the thrill of really well grown vegetables. By then, I was known as a competent gardener and could earn picture money by helping the gardener in the "big" house where my mother was housekeeper and learn all the time from him. Five years in university and another five in digs while working meant an enforced removal from the soil but, when my husband and i were house-hunting the garden was more important to me than the house and fifty seven years later it still is. It seems to me, Kate, that we all have an instinct for gardening stemming from the Hunter-gatherers we all came from and ,even if we are born without access to one, we find a way. You are so right - there should be school gardens, allotments, garden sharing,etc so that everyone has access to green space and escape from the concrete jungle.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/06/2011 at 17:06

I love gardening! I'm 22 and have had an allotment for nearly 2 years, my friends all think I'm weird but nevermind. My windowseat in my bedroom is a mini flower border, and the garden at my student house shall soon be filled with pretties :)

Gardeners' World Web User 24/06/2011 at 17:54

I have just read comment no.i and would like to suggest "grumpy" people are not nice to be with, so Anne could try learning the Latin names of all the plants in her garden, studying their biology and evolutionary history, painting a few of them, comparing her crops from year to year, trying to find more uses for the plants we do know how to grow,eg for medicine or fuel. She must surely know that some of the most intelligent people in the world are and were gardeners and enjoyed the chance to do "boring", "repetitive" tasks so that their intellect could work unhindered on the great problems of their age. Winston Churchill comes to mind.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/06/2011 at 18:07

Sometimes I guess it's in the genes... My mum always took us down to the cottage (in Hungary), which we had since I was two. She put it full of fruit trees, grown veggies, and I also had a tiny bit of land - the size of a handkerchief- under one of the sour cherries, till it shaded over and I have grown out of it. I loved the fresh peas I used to grow, and the strawberries, but there can never be better times, then picking fresh, incredibly sweet cherries from the tree from the sun-lounger, while holding a book with the other... Thought I'd never do much with plants, wanted to be a vet, and growing up in the city othewise, I never hoped to afford a place with a garden - maybe later in life. Life turned out to be different than dreams, and a bit reluctantly I had achieved (and worked hard for) a degree in Horticulture. But as I grew up, and got older, and coming to England, changed my view. I started to enjoy growing, refreshing my knowledge, and just finding joy and peace in all - even the hard work bit! Never understood why my mother couldn't sit for 5 minutes in the garden before jumping up and doing more work - now I know! Oh, and I ended up working in a plant nursery! Making whole plants out of bits and pieces is a bit like being God - sorry My Lord, but it's creation itself - a bit like having a baby, just with less pain at the end! :) Or let's call it Magic.. I feel ever so lucky to have a garden, especially as now it is brimming with fruits, veggies and there are flowers too. Each night when my husband comes home we go out with our 2-year-old, pick the raspberries, strawberries, alpine strawberries, then the peas. He will gobble them up, so we hardly actually get to taste them! I also had several salads (I don't even like lettuce, but somehow... mix, sauce, etc. and it's nice!), used the spinach, etc in sauces, soups, and other things, and my husband takes a salaf leaf or two in his sandwiches. It's such a lovely feeling to go around my garden, gather a bit of this, a bit of that.. And my toddler really loves it!He has learnt the words for these fruits (in one language or the other, whichever is easier), he helps to water everything(watered our shoes when I wasn't looking for a minute :) ), played with compost instead of sand, and always asks to go out into it, this was the first baby sign he learnt, when about 10-11 month old. My mum since told me her father was also a gardener - I didn't know that before, or wasn't interested. Now I feel it's a family thing. I can only hope I will give my son (and any other children) the "gardening bug", like my mother gave it to me, like she got it from her grandfather!

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