Monday, 6 May 2013

My Gardening Inspiration

Like many people I find smells take me back in a second to childhood memory. The explosive fumes from a strimmer starting is the reek of petrol as Dad puffs and blows, starting the old mower;  rich catty tomato-leaf stink is helping pinch out the burgeoning plants;  smoky autumnal bonfire  is the flames in the in the trees at the bottom of the garden with my brother and I spluttering and weeping whilst “smoking”  dried hollow cow parsley stalks; hot rubbery plastic is the little paddling pool used over and over in the drought of 1976, seeming like an Olympic length swimming pool then.

Those aromatic memories complement the more prosaic visual ones of plants I loved in the garden: the ones I knew from a tiny age, minute themselves and best viewed nose to ground. Heartsease: that open faced sweetie with a captivating name;  scarlet pimpernel, wonderful dusky pink elusive bloom, its shutting flower sign of rain to come; speedwell, the pimpernel's partner and a little  wonder eye to eye; forget-me-not’s bright patchwork flowers; toadflax, exotic bananary crescent moon curved blooms;  and eyebright, smallest of them all, perky, bright-white and a mowed lawn survivor. I learnt the names of these (from whom? Mum? Grandparents?)  and picked an example of each to press and label, earning a Brownie Badge in Nature, and inspiring me later to undertake tough-girl grafting sowing sunflowers, love-in-a-mist, marigolds and radishes to gain my Gardening badge.


When you are that small the important adults around you have a proportionally big influence, and luckily for me gardening seemed natural as it was what Dad and Grandad did. Like Grandad’s, Dad’s gardening was instinctive, not necessarily  neat, or ordered,  and not obsessional; and they wouldn’t admit to having green fingers but they did. Grandad was of the Percy Thrower garden-in-shirt-sleeves-and-tie generation, and the tiny near double-bed sized garden I knew was full of colour and veg: just the classics nothing fancy. Runner beans, tomatoes (Alicante, Gardeners’ Delight, MoneyMaker) , lettuce (Webbs Wonderful) Spring Onion (White Lisbon) Radish (French Breakfast) : I’ll probably remember these varieties after I’ve forgotten my partner’s name as it is what Grandad, and Dad grew, and now I do too. 

Gardening Grandad style

I bracket Dad’s gardening more with the wonderful Geoff Hamilton's; they had a relaxed attitude, worked with nature and they both stopped using peat at the same time.  Dad urged me: have a go, plant it and if it lives it lives, and you’ll know what works next time. I  find that I naturally garden in much the same way as Dad- and re-using his labels I find I sow  my tomatoes  at exactly the same date he did in the past- and the advantage is I often don’t even have to change the name, as the variety is the same.  I can't bring myself to rub out his labelling yet.

Dad's writing; my writing

All my inspiration wasn't from men by the way- Mum, Grandma and Nanna all encouraged me, and Auntie Bren had just the same style as me- nasturtiums all round and- and she gave me this gift of a childrens'  book, that, amazingly I still refer to!

Clear, instructive, attractive, inspirational

That was the past,  but what additionally inspires me now, to even a greater extent, is the natural world. Monty Don said something about however artfully arrange your border you cannot improve on a summer meadow or a spring hedge bank. This is true, but I find more and more I want to bring nature and the countryside in my  part of London, into the garden and into my allotment. I want to nurture the wildlife we see and I love studying a hoverfly as it busies round my (non sprayed) greenfly; or a caterpillar arching its way up my soon to be munched nasturtiums.   I love seeing the naturalistic displays in the places  we visit through the wonderful “yellow book” open gardens scheme and my annual treat of the Hampton Court Show, visiting with my very own Hampton Court Gardener and best pal, where I get to admire her wonderfully bright and inspiring borders as a bonus. 

Jane's Hampton Court Garden border

Today knowledgeable bloggers add to what I gained from Dad, their insight inspiring me to push and do more. Particularly in the new venture of the allotment this practical advice has supplemented my dreams and ambitions for the plot. 
I feel with our tiny rented backgarden and our more permanent, and much larger allotment plot, I have come full circle.  I am able to repeat some of Dad’s successes with standard veg, and expand into more exotic territory with access to not one but three greenhouses; exoticism he started with the growth of the adventurous spaghetti squash that Mum served with bolognaise; and the beautifully named Patty Pan.  I fear I have inherited the family gene for failing with sweet peas; but I will have a glut of tomato plants for friends and family as Dad always had.  I will use the same brand of extra strong organic fertiliser that Dad did, I will tie up plants as he and Grandad did.

At my Nanna and Grandad’s bungalow they had a garden themed thermometer on the wall: a gift long ago to garden lovers  from a relative’s  trip to Tenby.  The sentiment on it is cheesy; the little pad recording air humidity is dirty and rubbed by years of grandchildrens’ garden soil- besmirched fingers. But it’s the only thing I really wanted when the bungalow was finally vacated and cleared out.  I know the legend off by heart:

“Serene he stands amidst the flowers
And only counts life sunny hours
For him dull days do not exist
Evermore the optimist”

Pretty daft really, and I have only just realised the starting letter of each phrase spells safe.  But, ignoring the male bias to the phrase,  I love the imagery, and I do think it has some validity, despite the lack of sunny hours that we have had of late. To garden is to be optimistic, to look forward, to be creative, and thinking about that, I find, is inspirational. 

The inspiration for this piece about inspiration is a competition run through the instructive allotment blog run by Sue of Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments on behalf of Select Furnishings who make rather coveatable firepits 


  1. I've added your entry Jill - I enjoyed the read - good luck - pity you can;t all win, I'm glad I'm not the judge!

  2. It was fun to compose, which is the main thing, and even better it got me out of a patch of writer's block during my MA essay writing!

  3. Thank you for sharing such a lovely story Jill.
    Good luck.


    1. Thank you Linda. I very much enjoyed reading your story too, it's really fascinating hearing how other's got into gardening. Best of Luck!


  4. Who would not love to have a garden on their backyards? Seeing a blanket of healthy flora as you wake up every morning would be quite refreshing. And growing them can be quite therapeutic. Anyway, thanks for sharing!

    Gwendolyn Reyes @ Tapestry Landscape Architecture