The garden: a hobby or a task?


It’s beginning to end, the season of abundance, of frivolous beauty in the garden, and laboured-for harvest from the pots of vegetables. It’s beginning to feel dishevelled. The runner bean plants disrupted by (and not quite recovering from) my rifling for treasure. The annuals fading into oblivion. There is no denying that winter is heading this way.

Some of this summer has been spent in wrestling with a tension in the garden:

How do we keep gardening a relaxing past-time, whilst also growing more (plants, vegetables and our own skills and knowledge)? 


I swing from one extreme to the other. Sometimes waking up at night worrying about our onions (they need me!) and being labelled a ‘dictator’ for my green-tinged demands on our time*. Then barely stepping into the garden for a couple of weeks and leaving everything – hardy perennials through to demanding tomato plants – to fend for itself.

It strikes me that there should be another way, a middle ground to tread that keeps things turning over without veering into strict rotas and foot stamping over an onion trough**. A way that involves some planning, some structure and order, but doesn’t fall into the trap of becoming a pressure on top of full-time jobs and other commitments.


And if we can find this way, we’ll find yet more satisfaction in our garden. The season has been fine. We’ve revelled in the healthy exhaustion of the end of a hard day’s labour (much more satisfying than any day worked in front of a screen), enjoyed our best strawberry harvest yet (after a long delay) and our first effort at runner beans (just don’t talk to me about the courgette failures). But we suspect there is more to be had. More harvest from our plants, if we but knew how. When September settled in, I returned to Mark Diacono’s book ‘A Year at Otter Farm’ with seasonal interest. He wrote of how your tomato plants will respond well to care and attention. And I felt a pang of guilt and regret. Sure, I had nurtured them through infancy on our window sill, but once planted out in the garden, I felt that it was up to them to repay the favour. The more I garden, the more I feel I have to learn. But, much as I love the act of investigation and discovery, it’s not always what I want to do on my day off.

So as the main growing season comes to end, please tell me: how do you manage it? Do you tend to the graft or the just-give-it-a-go? How do you get the best from your plot without being a slave to it? What are your top tips? I’m ready to learn (just don’t put any pressure on it…).


*it was fair. Waking up at night worrying about your hobby-grown plants (as opposed to livelihoods) is too far.

** this didn’t happen. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t.

Today’s soundtrack: James Arthur // Back from the Edge

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