I Tried But It Died

I WANT to be a gardener and I've TRIED to be a gardener. But my list of actual gardening achievements could be written on the tip of a dibber. I've tilled things and then killed things through a mixture of blind ignorance and wilful neglect.

As my mother said wryly to me one year: "A little water is a wonderful thing..."

This year, though, the garden is much improved on previous years - not because of any prowess on my part but because my lovely brother comes every week or so and strims, mows and plants on my behalf. I even have vegetables growing - actual plants you can EAT. 

If only reading about gardening would translate into horticultural expertise, I would be a stalwart member of the National Gardens Scheme throwing my garden gate open every summer so people could marvel at my intricate landscaping and novel use of floral colour schemes. Instead, family and friends tut a lot as they tiptoe among my raggle taggle plants which are determined to last just a season before taking their roots off to that big Kew Gardens in the sky.

I have devoured the Dr Hessayon series of gardening "how to" books and read hundreds of thousands of words of gardening journals listing what to do each month. I have watched hours of garden programmes on TV.

 I have listened to weeks of Gardener's World on the radio. Books on gardening line my shelves. I even have one called Grow Your own Drugs - which is about medicinal plants before you think my lack of skill is owing to the ingestion of illegal greenery.

I have spent many a happy hour in those magnificent gardens that throw open their gates to the public. I discovered the Elizabethan Gardens in Plymouth when I had a holiday job as a waitress-cum-chambermaid in Newton Ferrers. The hotel is now closed, the closure having nothing to do with my lack of ability to put cutlery in the right order or do hospital corners on beds - at least I don't think so.  Frazzled, on my rare days off I visited Plymouth Hoe. One day I did a little exploring and found the Elizabethan Gardens nearby. One of the attractions, apart from the tranquillity and beauty, was that entry was free - an important feature for a hard-pressed student on minimal tips. It was so atmospheric I half expected Sir Francis Drake to join me on a stone bench and invite me for a game of bowls on the Hoe.

So I really don't know what it is that turns this normally placid woman into a serial killer - but freesias flee as I approach and beets beat a hasty retreat. I put the healthiest of seedlings into a bed and the next day they wilt and flop over. If they could cough, they would. Flowerbeds? More like hospital beds.

Still, I wasn't quite so bad as one of my friends who tilled radishes and waited and waited for them to appear above ground on the plant. She thought they grew like tomatoes. I at least know the theory if not the practice. Even she has now grown into a green-fingered genius.

There's one thing about gardeners, they are always quick with advice. They witter on at me in some arcane gardeners' language, strong on words and phrases like dwarf cushions - which are not something to make Happy and Sneezy's lives more comfortable, but swathes of short flowers - double-digging, when I don't have the time to single dig, and  free draining, which is not something being given away on Gumtree.

It doesn't help that my lovely neighbour is the most brilliant gardener. She has created a beautiful English country garden out of nothing. There is colour all year round, a fishpond and a vegetable plot. There are arches with plants crawling around them and little paths leading to yet more horticultural delights. It has everything I aspire to. I look across with envy. She must stare at my garden and wonder if a localised hurricane returns every evening. She's too kind to mention it and instead leaves gifts of runner beans and strawberries on my doorstep.

But this year I am determined to get to grips with this gardening malarkey and extend my repertoire beyond the tub of tomatoes and cut-and-come-again lettuces I grew last year. I have a cunning plan. I am going to paint my nails, dress up in a big straw hat and a long flowery skirt, take my glass of wine out into the garden - and tell my brother what to do. 

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  1. I tend to dream and salivate over books on Permaculture which usually require at least an acre of ground, a few trees, chickens in a moveable coop and soil so rich and black it would grow absolutely anything with just a wink and a nod from me.
    My reality is a tiny patch about 20 square metres or about half that, I haven't actually measured it, with dirt that doesn't deserve to be called soil, it sets like cement every summer and is filled with the roots of the five tall, skinny plum trees that were here when I moved in. I've discovered the only things that grow are suckers from the plum trees and various succulents that don't need watering hardly at all and love the summer heat.
    Yet I still yearn for Permaculture...

    1. I think I would manage to kill off plants grown in the richest of soil - one look from me and they all wither. Hope you achieve your dream of "permaculture" home one day.

  2. We planted a bunch of flowers last week and the chipmunks have already come in and stolen several of the plants and uprooted many others. Plus they knocked over a small planter which smashed to pieces. So no, you don't need a hurricane to ruin a garden, just pests.

    1. No chipmunks in the UK. I think I would love them, even if they did steal my plants. They always look cute in pictures but I suspect the reality is a little different!

  3. Awesome post! I had a lovely perennial garden many years ago. Then work stress overwhelmed me. Now most of those flowers are long gone and I'm battling with weeds. ~sigh~ We should buy new plants, but haven't been able to budget for that. Don't forget to take a glass of wine to your brother!

    1. My garden was awful until my brother took it in hand! He definitely deserves a glass of wine although I think he'd prefer beer!

  4. Your neighbour does have a wonderful garden but on observing her runner beans, it is clear she doesn't have visiting rabbits!

    1. I have my fingers crossed for her runner beans. Hopefully she will share as usual and we can have them with our Sunday roast!

  5. HAHA....that sounds like my indoor plants during the winter. I bring them in off the deck and every now and again I hear them begging for water as I walk by them. Outside my plants get good care.