Being a Good Gardener

Being a good gardener is not about striving for perfection.

Today I’ve had the rare treat of an afternoon in my garden. It’s Boxing Day, the store is closed, the world is at the mall or the beach and I have an afternoon to myself to potter. Taking on the Queens Christmas message of time for reflection and renewal I decided not to go hard out but to mooch my way around the garden, reflecting on what has been and what may be to come.

Possibly my desire not to go hard out had something to do with yesterdays Christmas food at Mum and Dads, coupled with the enormity of the mess my garden is in.  It would take several “hard outs” to make a dint in the wilderness of my beds. And in the lead up to Christmas I will admit that this had been getting me down.  My garden isn’t a show garden, it’s a garden for me and the people I share it with so that it got away on me shouldn’t have mattered. But it did to me.

During November and December our household was actually at risk of getting scurvy because of my complete aversion to buying greens. The fact that I had failed to grow our own didn’t seem to lessen this self imposed puritanical ban. Traditionally after his nibs pulls out the flagging winter veg in early Spring and loads his gardens up with spuds and corn I’m supposed to take over as chief grower of “herbs and those leafy things for salads” which are not in his gardening repertoire.

I just didn’t get around to it this year.  So after I’d ferreted out the last furtive packets of beans and herbs from the bowels of the freezer and fought the caterpillars for the last of the Kale leaves I gave in and bought a bunch of rocket and coriander at the Nelson Market, all the while expecting a big hooter to go off above my head proclaiming “She’s BUYING rocket”.  It didn’t.

When you’re busy with life being a good gardener seems about as doable as being a supermodel.  A state of perfection requiring too many steps to even attempt and when faced with less than perfection it’s easy to get disheartened and think gardening a thankless task, right up there with ironing.  After all I had invested a lot of time and energy resuscitating this garden to a pretty good, if not super, model and how did it repay me?. I turn my back for one Spring and it’s lying on the couch in trackies eating a packet of mallow puffs and watching Dr Oz.

But shortly into my mooching this afternoon I could see that I was wrong to be downhearted and that gardening is far from thankless.  A garden is one of the most forgiving things on the planet and mine had been quietly getting on with it without my help, just not in perfect fashion.

I started with an inspection of his nib’s vege beds which are in a better state than mine. Turns out time and courgettes wait for no man and although we only popped away for Christmas day I uncovered our first proper marrow of the season and 3 obese zucchini.  Being too early in the season for marrow I thought I’d gift it to the sheep.  Who would know once it was eaten?  No one else was home. They ate half and decided it was too early in the season for marrow.  I retrieved the gooey mangled remains and disposed of them with guilt in the depths of the coprosma hedge.

Next I swept out the BBQ to try and give an illusion of order and found the variegated honesty all gone to seed but looking very pretty.   Skirting around my white garden in full pink and mauve bloom with bracken garnish, I moved on to the two worst “productive” beds with my name on them.   These I could clean up in an afternoon.

elephant garlic
Elephant Garlic – plant and forget

The first bed housed the perennial shallot corms I’d planted after the 2012 winter seed swap.  Having had the chance to prove their perennial status not once but twice uninterrupted by the hand of Heather they rewarded me with large satisfying clumps of small but perfect shallots for drying and replanting in autumn.  This bed also housed the now long since gone to seed purple kale with tall thick stems and fat seed pods that I’d been consoling myself could be saved for resowing.  Turns out these were more to the sheep’s liking.

The second bed unearthed the biggest bulb of elephant garlic I’ve ever grown, wedged under the edging plank and prized out with a large garden fork.  Given that this was the first season in 7 years I hadn’t planted any elephant garlic at all I was very heartened to find it.

I was also pleased to find another couple of treasures from this years seed swap were merrily going to seed for me – a special curly cress and a red leafed deer tounge lettuce which had just been getting on with it in my absence.

Even the runner beans I got from my neighbour Judith at the seed swap had decided to produce their first beans, even though running was a bit beyond them.   These beans are smooth, stringless ones with the prettiest seeds you’ll ever see.     With a bit of late summer encouragement they may yet climb the fence for me.

So after a satisfying afternoon in the garden I had a sit on the porch with my new copy of the NZ Gardener 1000 Top Tips.  It’s a treasure trove of good advice but don’t let yourself get daunted by all those good gardeners and their good advice because I know they all have their moments when they don’t turn their compost and let the weeds get away on them.  Being a good gardener isn’t about striving for perfection, it’s about giving the plants a hand to do what comes naturally and enjoying the results.

Judiths Beans, Varigated Honesty, Curly Wurly Cress and Deer Tounge Lettuce
Judiths Beans, Varigated Honesty, Curly Wurly Cress and Deer Tounge Lettuce

And if you’d like some of the variegated honesty, curly cress, deer tounge lettuce or Judith’s beans that I’ve mentioned in the blog send me an a stamped self-addressed envelope and I’ll post you some when they’re ripe and dried.






  1. Where’s the photo of the giant elephant garlic?!

    1. Well Jess, I thought that would be skiteing but I asked nicely and it granted me a photo shoot this morning, posing with fork next to where I found it. Post updated 🙂

  2. Innogen and Igraine

    Love this post. We are all about that…..our plants do have to fend for themselves somewhat but we are loving what they offer us back when we give them even simple words of encouragement 🙂 Happy New Year to you all

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