Whether you’re growing flowers, herbs, vegetables, or trees, you can make your garden stand out with a little planning. Using modern techniques can help you save water, money and the environment.
To avoid disease, it’s important to rotate plants each year. This helps prevent pests and diseases from building up in the soil.
As a botanist who studies our cultural relationship with plants, I am forever fascinated with what draws people to gardening. Much like agriculture, we now know that ornamental horticulture independently evolved many centuries ago in unconnected cultures all over the world – a seemingly universal human desire coded into our cultural DNA.
While communing with the natural world might seem like an obvious motivation, and undoubtedly it is a key part of the allure, in reality gardens are anything but natural. If they were, we’d abandon any attempts at design, planting or care and watch how walls of weeds slowly gave way to thickets of scrub.
But that wouldn’t be gardening, of course, because for all their diversity – whether we like to admit it or not – the one thing that all gardens have in common is how contrived they are. They are idealised landscapes with all the mud, pests and dead plants edited out. Dazzling plants, water features and floral abundance is all dialled up to well beyond what would naturally occur. Whether it is green lawns created in the driest deserts or a tropical oasis on a blustery North Atlantic island, they are all about moulding the natural world to fit our idea of what it “should” be.
As I primp and prune my tiny terrariums on dark February nights, something magical happens to my brain. The sense of calm created by having a patch of earth, no matter how small but that I feel I have complete control over, has a powerful effect on my mind in a world that has become increasingly uncertain. Whether it’s the people who trim the edges of their lawns with nail scissors or strictly organic “rewilding” devotees, when you dig a little below the surface they are often fuelled by the same psychological desire: the instinctive need to have (or at least feel like you have) a modicum of control amid chaos.
As our world becomes more and more unpredictable and often – let’s be honest – frightening, gardening seems to be able to appeal to and reach out to a whole new generation, often against all odds. Even those who don’t have, and will likely never have, gardens of their own have embraced the hobby. And the things they have gravitated toward? Rare tropical species, variegated mutations, terrariums, even growing veg, all of which require enormous amounts of care (and control).
Of course, gardening isn’t the only thing people turn to. The rise of political extremism, culture warfare and fixation on body image have also been widely documented as being driven by a psychological need to feel a degree of certainty, control and safety in a world of pandemics, war and economic decay. I can’t help but think, however, how much better a place the planet would be if gardening was our outlet for this need, instead of so many of the alternatives.
Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek