Gardening is a lesson in playing the long game.
I’m a quick-fix, instant-gratification type of person, so my growing love of the garden has brought with it an appreciation for taking things a bit slower. For taking the long view and planning ahead for the same season, the next season, the next year, the next few years…
Very few aspects of gardening are instant. You can buy a fully grown plant in a pot and have instant colour. Buy a few of them and you’ve got instant impact. But like many ‘instant’ things in life, the satisfaction is fleeting.
I’m learning to love the long game. I have no choice, really, as I don’t have the budget for an instant garden! But even if I did, I think I would still choose to plan and sow, make careful selections and take the time to move and shape things over the course of days, weeks and months.
Take delphiniums for example. I have sown many of these this year, some to share and sell, others will hopefully find a home in my garden, but I am taking the time to grow these in pots until they’re large and healthy and can withstand the assaults of the various snails and slugs patrolling my front garden. It’s true, even large plants can be decimated by the jaws of a hungry gastropod, but the larger ones stand a better chance of survival. As an experiment, I planted out a few young delphiniums into the front border and in a matter of days – as I suspected – they’d been torn to shreds.
This border itself is another example. In many ways I wish I could blow the bank account and buy dozens of plants to fill the bare soil still showing in the front…and yet by sowing and propagating, along with some careful bargain-spotting at plant sales and garden centres, I’ve managed to gradually fill gaps in around two thirds of the garden so far. I like seeing it take shape gradually, and it gives me time to pause and redesign areas which aren’t working, or try new ideas when I’m inspired by a photo or magazine article.
In that very border are two mature philadelphus shrubs. Last autumn I pruned them hard – knowing this would mean no flowering for at least a year. They had flowered poorly the previous summer anyway and were congested and overgrown. So I played the long game – removing most of the older stems and branches to leave a healthy selection of wood with a far better structure. I’ve missed the flowers but hopefully next year I’ll find out if my hard work has paid off and be rewarded with a much healthier and better flowering plant.
My studies are part of my long-term plans too. Much as I would like to, I can’t train in horticulture full-time – work and family commitments demand my time and ensure an income. But I can take little steps forward – studying for half an hour each morning, taking a couple of exams every few months…inching forward towards a qualification which might come in useful, or might simply make me a better gardener. Either way, I’m enjoying the process and I know that the theoretical learning is going hand in hand with what I’m practicing over time in my own garden.
This week I sowed biennials – again, another long wait to see how they’ll turn out. Biennial plants flower the season after sowing, so the foxgloves and hesperis seeds I’ve sown now won’t flower until next spring and will need cared for in the greenhouse during autumn and winter. But it will be worth it when they’re finally planted out in the garden, proving colour and scent and encouraging insects and wildlife.
So yes, even though ‘instant’ gardening can be a good thing, playing the long game is better for me – it slows me down and asks me to think and plan and anticipate what’s to come. When many other aspects of my life seem to be whizzing past at speed, I’m grateful for the garden, which slows me down and helps me to appreciate what I have in front of me.