Friday, 14 October 2011

Guest post: Helplessness (by Naomi @NaomiNome)

When Tom first asked me to write a post about an emotion I felt as a gardener I was stumped. The emotions that spring to mind are the negative ones (typical ungrateful human…) but I’d just hate to put anyone off, or risk portraying myself as some kind of masochist or a failure with a useless plot. So after mulling it over for a while I decided on…


Bear with me…

Helplessness comes in many forms in the garden. There’s the kind, which I’ve been suffering lately, when you can’t get to the plot for a while, due to illness, or holiday, or life otherwise getting in the way, and you just wish you knew if everything was all right down there. There’s the kind when a whole tray of seeds refuses to germinate despite all your best efforts. There’s the kind when a favourite plant keels over without warning and for no apparent reason. There’s the kind when an unexpected late frost blackens all your potato plants and strawberry flowers. And there’s the kind when you take every precaution possible to protect against pests but somehow the blighters just keep coming. (These poor seedlings were scoffed by a stowaway snail right there in my living room!)

The fact is, however hard we slave over our garden’s every need - tending and weeding and watering, rigging with nets and fleece and shiny things, picking off pests and applying treatments and fertilisers - we’re always at the mercy of greater forces. Climate, weather, wild plants, wild creatures, the complexities of soil science – not to mention a sizeable measure of pure randomness and luck. Not even the most skilled gardener can force an unwilling seed to grow or fruit to swell. Nothing is predictable. Nothing is guaranteed.

But those forces can be kind too. While we blame other factors for our failures, do we take all the credit for our successes? Is it ours to take?

At a social event at our allotment site recently, a lot of people were grumbling about what a ‘bad year’ it’s been. Leafy veg bolted in the hot spring, squashes are growing terribly slowly, fungal diseases abound… Well yeah, I said, but it’s been an amazing year for berries, broad beans, tree fruit and potatoes, unlike last year. And your tomatoes may have given up the ghost, but across town in my garden, mine are still going strong. Conditions which are bad for one plant can work wonders for another, and yet we always focus on the negative, don’t we?

I choose to feel liberated by my helplessness. After all, it means I never have to take the blame when things go wrong. And it reminds me to aim to work in harmony with nature, because there’s no point trying to work against it. And because it brings as much good fortune as bad.

From the full-on grief I felt when my prize pumpkin was hollowed out by slugs and my Crown Prince squash plants all gave up and died, through the frustration of trying to keep my cucumbers and peppers bitterness-free, the disappointment of miniscule onions or having to throw away a diseased plant that has barely borne fruit, and the humiliation of seeing a jungle of fat-hen and bindweed spring up all over the plot again, to the joy of seeing our tree full of gleaming red apples or pulling up the year’s first pure white parsnip, the awe and wonder provoked by seeing the fresh green shoots of spring or bumblebees tending newly opened pea flowers, the sheer gratitude I feel for the kilos upon kilos of delicious tomatoes we’ve had this year, the laughter that bubbled up when we lifted potatoes bigger than our hands, and the immense satisfaction of sitting down to an entirely home-grown meal – we owe all these things, in part, to forces outside our control; forces which give and take away on their own schedule.

Yup, I feel utterly helpless – a mere and trifling pawn in nature’s crazy game.

And I love it.

Naomi has been with this blog since the very start, and was one of the first to comment helping me identify a harmless mint moth as opposed to a rabid butterfly that I thought it might have been. She writes about her allotment adventures on the other side of the country from me, and one of my favourite regular features is her review of a monthly Wild Food night - perfect for all you foragers! Her blog can be found here or look over to the right and see 'NomeGrown' on the list of recommended blogs.

This is the latest in my attempt to uncover what it's really like to garden; to slowly draw out of gardeners new and experienced one outstanding feeling they get when pruning, digging, protecting, nurturing... For more emotional mayhem head over to my guest bed, and if you'd like to join in the fun please feel free to contact me

And if you're completely new to my blog, then can I recommend the newly published Weeder's digest, for all the best bits in one hit.

1 comment:

hairygardener said...

Everybody goes through helplessness,even gardening "gurus" some just will not admit it,Like this post very much

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

My photo
I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.