A recent Irish Times article by Ann Marie Hourihane titled ‘Planting seeds of doubt about gardening’ discusses our predisposition to view gardens and gardening as something that everyone will succeed at, with a particular focus on the ‘grow your own’ movement. In fact many sources would suggest that we are guaranteed to arise victorious when venturing in to growing plants and produce. A fluffy notion portrayed by the media and the government alike that was set to foster hope and motivation but inevitably dash dreams for others and quite possibly put people off growing fruit, vegetables and ornamentals for life. Ann Marie highlights how we see this type of ‘you can do it’ language day in, day out and quite frankly, although it was good to start with and very encouraging, it seems to have lost some of its lustre. Should we come back down to earth now?
Several initiatives added gusto and an infectious drive towards another ‘grow your own’ movement, freeing up space for communities, individuals and even national trust staff. It all looked rosy to begin with and early signs were promising. Once again gardening was in vogue. The mass media bandwagon had worked quite well and sales figures for the sector were looking extremely healthy in a climate that has brought devastation to many others.
As we are very much aware, everything works with cyclical motion and this trend, if that’s what it is, will surely loose momentum at some point. Just when is anyone’s guess and a study is underway to monitor allotment waiting lists that is sure to shed more light on the situation. The study has already shown that for every 100 established plots another 49 people had registered their interest and were waiting in the wings ready to take on a small piece of earth. In 1997 this figure was around 4 for every 100 plots in England. The next set of results should prove to be an interesting read.
From my own experience I can say that allotment waiting lists in my area appear to be moving quickly. There are two reasons for this, allotment plots are being handed back to the council and people are losing interest in gaining a plot altogether. In the space of a single week I moved from twenty-something on the waiting list to second. This was unheard of only a few months ago. Is this a sign that there could be a change on the horizon? There has certainly been a change in my locality, although it may not be representative of the rest of the nation.
Another uninspiring piece of recent news focused on the National Trust flagship plot, which has recently emerged as a complete disaster. Not boding well for the movement at all. This empty gesture lacked thought, preparation, planning and discussion with the workforce, or so it seems. It represents how fluffy notions often end up and this vision of reality may be something we don’t see enough of? After all, gardening is hard work at times and isn’t always sunshine and roses.
Should gardening come with a warning?
In every other sphere of society there is an element of education that precedes decision-making and in a similar ilk surely gardening, be it ornamental or edible, should incorporate an element of realism and offer an informed view, allowing individuals to weigh up the pros and cons of whatever it is they wish to pursue. To expand on Ann Marie Hourihane’s example of Cabbages, it would appear that these delicious Brassicas are fair game for any newbie gardener, when in fact there are a whole world of pests and diseases that are very likely to raise their ugly heads. Birds, caterpillars, club root and a whole host of others are all waiting to snap up your prized seedlings/plants and you didn’t even know?
A balance of advice would be a good starting point from which to launch in to gardening. Lets move away from fluffy notions and biased information on the part of the media, retailer or enthusiastic “celebrity” gardener. We know that to sustain engagement people need to see results or at least a degree of success as this helps to breed interest and motivation. A balanced approach, based in reality and possibility, will enable new gardeners to ‘go prepared’ as opposed to merely reacting or not knowing what to do when a problem arises.
Will the next generation of gardeners see a realistic and informed approach to gardening? Or will they become victims of the movement’s own success?