Letter to a Young Gardener
By Dave Van Raay
“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”
– Janet Kilburn Phillips
With each generation, it seems like there are fewer people gardening. People are often lamenting our disconnection from the earth – many of us are more likely to spend hours of the day inside or in front of a screen, rather than in the sunshine with some dirt under our fingernails. This carries with it an even larger ripple effect where, as we are increasingly distanced from the life outdoors, our children don’t have anyone to learn from either. For many of us, the hustle of our daily lives is enough to distract us from teaching our kids that there’s more to learn and draw wonder from an opening flower or a cup of pond water than from all the apps in iTunes.
Why is this happening? Garden writers are constantly fretting over it and Garden Centres are tripping over themselves to meet in the middle. Beyond the mobile responsive websites and Instagram pictures, we need to go further to talk to the people in our communities. There are some things that need to be said to many people who really do want to spend time in and growing with their gardens, but feel like they somehow can’t. Many of us first learned the magic of gardening with our parents. Between all the details and our busy lives, it is easy to take your garden back to the simpler ways you remember, and to even share that with your own family.
Forget the Perfect Yard
We know how enthusiastic you are about your home and garden. With your strollers, partners, parents, friends, or even just your dreams, you look at the fresh blooming plants around the Greenhouse like they belong in a museum: to be seen and inspected, but not touched. You also come to the garden centre as an escape for the senses. You come in to be refreshed by seeing, smelling, and breathing in the oxygen.
This enthusiasm is powerful. Not only does it inspire us to reach out to kids and young families, but it’s the core of something very important. We’re constantly reminded of something lurking under the enthusiasm, whether it’s the memory of the plant you once killed, or the impossibly perfect garden you saw that you’re afraid you’ll never grow.
In gardening, we’re not always as empowered as we should be. We’re always bending over backward to find the most perfect gardens or specimens and putting them up on a pedestal. Even as we go around photographing these immaculate plants for “inspiration”, we’re busy picking off brown leaves as we go. We sometimes forget that gardening shouldn’t be about achieving the perfect garden. It should actually be a living testament to imperfection and an escape from all the perfection that follows us in the rest of our lives.
Just as we see bodies in magazines that are more photoshop than real, often the images of perfect gardens we see are tended, manicured and even airbrushed. They’re well-intended and meant to inspire, but much too often, they actually disempower. That type of stunning magazine-quality garden can exist, but often is home to a number of its own imperfections, and rarely in the home of a young couple. A showpiece garden is a part-time (or sometimes even a full time!) job and is often a labor of love for the semi-retired or retired. Feel free to be inspired with an idea or two, but don’t be worried about recreating it when there are kids’ soccer games to attend and dinner on the stove.
Gardening is about connection, not perfection. Growing your own plants is a wonderful crossroad of beauty and function. You can make a salad for your family in the same place you can go for a break and take a deep breath at the end of the day. Planting a seed or a plant to watch it grow and bloom is an act of empowerment that satisfies a need that few other things can. This is what is at the core of your garden, before worrying over aesthetic and design.
Your Garden is About You
Gardening uses the earth to tell your story. Every seed planted or stem snipped, to the plants you choose because they capture your heart, to the delicious crops you nurture and eat, are a part of the story you’re telling. It’s a big story, starting before what your parents taught you and that you’ll teach to your kids, too.
Try not to be so intimidated by pictures of the perfect achievement in yards and gardens. Instead, listen to the part of you that wants to feel the cool, moist earth in your hands and to share that with your kids. Feel free to be creative and make your garden whatever you want it to be. You can invent your space to be whatever you want it to be. You’re a nurturer and you can make your yard and garden into a place that nurtures you, too. Your garden can be a place for your kids to explore and discover nature. It can be an area of solace, of play and imagination, of sustenance. It doesn’t take any perfection to create a garden that brings joy.