Can you remember the exact moment when you realised gardening wasn’t boring? I ask the question as I have watched young adults recently realise that politics isn’t boring when you have an anarchic, anti-establishment underdog telling you that things don’t have to be the same old, same old…
Nor do they have to be in gardening – for me it was a comment in an obscure book that the world would be a better place if every Weigela bush was piled high on a bonfire and burnt. Now I personally have nothing against Weigelas and actually grow a good one in my garden now called ‘Bristol Ruby’ but it was a thrill to know that plants could engender such passion. It was the same when I learnt that Christopher Lloyd refused to include a chapter on the genus Digitalis in his definitive book on Garden Flowers as he considered foxgloves to be drab. I loved that Germaine Greer ripped up her lawn and turned the whole thing into a no maintenance gravel garden where the law of ‘survival of the fittest’ ruled; that Nigel Dunnet has transformed the conventional gardens around the Barbican into a self sustaining ecosystem inspired by the Russian steppes.
What a load of tosh! Honestly, if Laura and Elaine were less arty-farty. If they’d attended the University of Life like me, instead of pretentiously punting up the Cam and doing all that Latin mumbo jumbo, they’d be able to draw more practically on our family’s heritage as Sunday Express readers – and specifically the Adam the Gardener picture strip. Unlike my sisters’ modern romantics, Adam was a man who was set on maximising his garden’s productivity to overcome war shortages without a trace of emotion. In short, he could have been a Scot.
Resembling a high security in-mate, Adam’s menacing insistence that you build earwig traps; make ‘cloches’ from old window frames, and aphid spray from boiled rhubarb leaves made a deep impression on the wide-eyed primary school me. Of course some of his tips, such as: ‘forced dandelion leaves form a good salad addition’ and that ‘their roasted roots, ground when cold, make a useful substitute for coffee,” were beginning to sound a little dated even in the 1960s, (but if you’re looking to launch a new ‘superfoods’ brand, Adam may provide the ideal sourcebook).
Making my other heroes on the Beechgrove Garden team look like total bling-meisters, his columns nevertheless reveal all sorts of new facts if, like me, you didn’t know that much before you began. OK so I did know that Tropaeolums are sold as nasturtiums but I didn’t know nasturtium is actually the correct name for watercress (sow it in the third week of March apparently. You’ll need a 2-foot trench, decayed manure and plenty of sand).
A word of caution. If you emulate Adam’s addiction to obliterating insects and weeds using a concoction of deadly chemicals you will be picked up by MI5. Given the ingredients he used, Adam would have experienced a number of definitive moments at which he discovered gardening isn’t boring in the slightest.